Football

Four home nations could make cut at Euros for the first time

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Next year's European Championships could well represent the best showing at a major tournament from the home nations ever - in terms of actually getting there at least.

This time round, 24 teams - including France - will qualify for the tournament held just across the waters next summer, and while that might suggest that the expansion has galvanised the competition for the normally weaker countries, this might not be the case should most of the UK's nations qualify in the top two, or even three, of their respective group.

With England having already progressed, let's take a look at where the rest of the home nations stand in their bid for qualification.

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Scotland arguably stand the least chance of qualifying given that they currently lie fourth in Group D, behind Germany in first, Poland in second and fellow UK representatives Republic of Ireland in third.

However, Gordon Strachan's side can seek reasonable faith from the fact that Ireland, who sit four points above them, face difficult tests against Germany and Poland in their final two games of the group - both of which Ireland can conceivably lose.

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Scotland, though, face a similarly difficult task in overcoming Poland, albeit at home, and round off their qualifying stages with what should be a routine win against bottom-of-the-table Gibraltar. Should they win both, they stand an excellent chance of qualifying, but anything less - even four points out of a possible six - might not be enough due to Ireland's superior goal difference.

Northern Ireland are next in the more-likely-not-to-qualify-if-anything department, though a single win from their final two games is all that's required for Michael O'Neill's side to progress.

A last-minute equaliser from Kyle Lafferty secured Northern Ireland a point against Hungary on Monday which did anything but harm their chances of missing out on qualification, and while they'll be without goalscorer Lafferty in their next game against Greece, O'Neill's men should be able to put qualification beyond doubt with a win against the rock-bottom side.

Wales have been the surprise package in this campaign, and although Sunday's damp stalemate against Israel was an anti-climax, they are just one point away from qualifying for their first tournament since the 1958 World Cup, where they were eliminated in the quarter-finals by eventual winners Brazil and a certain 17-year-old called Pele.

And considering one of their two remaining games is against Andorra, who are winless so far, it's likely to be safe to say that Chris Coleman and his squad will be in France come next June. 

And then there is dear old England. Despite the group looking like the 'easiest' of the lot, the Three Lions' qualifying statistics make for impressive reading: 8 games, 8 wins, 24 goals and only 3 conceded.

You can only beat what is in front of you after all, and while England have hardly struggled throughout the campaign, it's a testament to Roy Hodgson's men that they've remained professional about their business throughout.

However, England must not become complacent. Just look at how the Netherlands have underwhelmed (that's an understatement) and even the best German side in years has lost one of their games. Yes, it may appear England have improved, but then this group has not thrown up an Italy; a Uruguay; or even a Costa Rice to truly challenge their mettle.

It's perfectly conceivable, then, that four home nations could represent at the Euros next year, which would be a proud moment for all involved, but perhaps not so for Scotland, who look increasingly likely to miss the cut.

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