As the European qualifying groups have passed the halfway mark, all of the home nations and the Republic of Ireland still retain chances of reaching the finals in France next year. The bookies have trimmed their odds to 6/4 to suggest that Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are almost there. Only the Republic of Ireland seem to be doubtful in their minds, yet all is still not lost for Martin O'Neill's men. Could we see the 'unthinkable' or is it all going to unravel in the final analysis? In part one, let's have a look at the evidence for Wales, England and Northern Ireland.

Wales

Currently top of Group B after their success over nearest challengers Belgium in Cardiff, the momentum seems to be behind the Welsh to reach a first major finals since the World Cup of 1958.

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They lead Belgium by three points, with both Israel and Cyprus a further two points worse off.

Their final four fixtures are:

  • Cyprus (away)

  • Israel (home)

  • Bosnia-Herzegovina (away)

  • Andorra (home)

Should they win their next two games, then Chris Coleman's side should be well set. Andorra's woeful record in the group of no points from six games and a goal difference of minus 20, should make the last game a formality.

Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey are their key men, so Coleman will be hopeful of their continued fitness at the start of next season when their Euro campaign resumes.

England

The bookies seem to believe that England are already safe, hardly surprising given their 100% record so far and massive 9 point advantage over third-placed Slovenia in Group E.

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Three points from their next game should be enough to qualify, given their massive goal difference advantage.

Their final four fixtures are:

  • San Marino (away)

  • Switzerland (home)

  • Estonia (home)

  • Lithuania (away)

Roy Hodgson will be looking for a win in San Marino to confirm qualification, followed by an uplifting victory at Wembley to clinch top spot. Even a draw against the Swiss would probably do from that point of view.

Captain Wayne Rooney would become his nation's undisputed top goal-scorer of all time with another two goals, with the San Marino fixture representing a great chance for that to be achieved. He drew level with Gary Lineker on 48 goals for England in the 3-2 victory over Slovenia, and now lies just one behind the great Bobby Charlton's record of 49 goals.

Northern Ireland

Their 0-0 draw against Group F leaders Romania in Belfast seemed to suit both nations, judging by the respective coaches' reactions afterwards.

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In truth, the Irish could have done with some extra breathing space over third-placed Hungary, who edged within two points of them after a win in Finland. They remain the only serious challengers to either Romania or the Irish for the top two qualifying places.

Ireland's final four fixtures are:

  • Faroe Islands (away)

  • Hungary (home)

  • Greece (home)

  • Finland (away)

The battle between the top three teams remains tight. Assuming that the Faroes do not repeat their amazing 2-1 victory over Greece and the Irish can claim the win there, the home clash with Hungary seems to be the pivotal game. Hungary host Romania at home on the same evening as the Faroes' clash against the Irish, so could do them a favour by winning there.

Hungary's only other potential banana skip looks to be Greece away in their final group game, but the Greeks have had a poor qualification so far and are bottom of the group with just two points.

In part two we will review the chances for Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. #Football #Euro2016