5 things to look out for as Euro 2020 qualifying concludes
The final week of Euro 2020 qualifying is already under way, with plenty still up for grabs. Places at next summer’s festival of football can be won or lost, while there are personal challenges ahead too.
Here, the PA news agency assesses what awaits the home nations.
Parting gift for O’Neill?
Michael O’Neill’s eight-year stint as Northern Ireland boss has been nothing short of a revelation but is entering its final lap after he accepted the chance to take over at Stoke. With a more inviting group he would probably be sending his country to the European Championship for the second time in a row, but instead they face a monstrous double header against Holland and Germany and probably need to beat both to seal automatic qualification. Saturday’s home match against the Dutch, who came from behind to win the reverse fixture, is a chance to keep the dream alive for a little longer, tighten the grip on a play-off place at the least and for Windsor Park to show their manager the appreciation he has earned.
A big day in Dublin
Barring an unexpected sequence of results that would leave a three-way tie at the top of the group – in which Switzerland would need to drop points against Georgia or Gibraltar – the equation facing the Republic of Ireland is simple: beat Denmark on Monday and head to the tournament. The task at hand might be slightly trickier, with the Danes thrashing the Irish 5-1 in the 2018 World Cup play-offs, but confidence will be boosted by the 1-1 draw in Copenhagen earlier in the campaign. Shane Duffy’s late equaliser means victory would hand Mick McCarthy’s men the head-to-head advantage even if the teams finished level on 15 points.
What should have been an unequivocally celebratory week for England – marking their 1,000th men’s international and sealing top spot in Group A with a 7-0 mauling of Montenegro – has been complicated by the bust-up between Raheem Sterling and Joe Gomez. Gareth Southgate’s decision to ban Sterling from the occasion at Wembley dominated the build-up and the wholly unwarranted smattering of boos when Gomez came off the bench added further complication. Drawing a line under the matter in Kosovo on Sunday, with Sterling successfully returning to the XI and perhaps sharing the pitch with Gomez, would go a long way to closing the chapter.
Crunch time for Giggs and Wales
Wales go into their final double header sitting fourth in Group E but still harbour legitimate hopes of reaching the automatic places. They will need to win away in Azerbaijan on Saturday – then double down when Hungary visit Cardiff – but with star men Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey seemingly ready to reunite for the first time in the campaign, things are looking up. The next few days could settle the open question of Ryan Giggs’ up-and-down tenure.
Under-strength Scotland looking for leaders
Scotland’s hopes of emerging from Group I have long since expired, with nine points from eight games leaving them well short of competitive. The Nations League has guaranteed a play-off place regardless, meaning Saturday’s trip to Cyprus offers a chance to build on the 6-0 win over San Marino last time out. Sadly for Steve Clarke he will be going in without the injured trio of captain Andy Robertson, Scott McTominay and Ryan Fraser, as well as Kieran Tierney. All are key players who Clarke will be leaning on in March but in their absence he will be desperate so see others take on the challenge.