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Saturday, Sep 6, 2014

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Football: Euro 2016 qualifiers group by group guide

AFP | Saturday, Sep 6, 2014

UEFA 2016

PARIS - Ahead of the start of the qualifying competition for the 2016 European Championship in France on Sunday, AFP Sports casts a glance over all nine groups: Group A After finishing third at the World Cup the Netherlands will be expected to emerge comfortably from Group A, although they have a new coach, with Manchester United-bound Louis van Gaal being replaced by Guus Hiddink, back for a second spell in charge.

The second automatic qualifying berth should be contested by Euro '96 winners the Czech Republic and Turkey, although Iceland will again hope to upset the odds after reaching the play-offs for the World Cup.

Group B World Cup quarter-finalists Belgium have a young team that should be at its peak come Euro 2016. Marc Wilmots' team are unlikely, therefore, to be overly troubled in qualifying Group B. Nevertheless, Bosnia and Herzegovina still have plenty of potential to fulfil after appearing at a major tournament for the first time at the World Cup in Brazil.

In addition, Wales harbour genuine hope of a first major finals appearance since 1958 with a mediocre team bolstered by the superstar quality of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.

Group C Defending two-time European champions Spain are eager to bounce back from their poor showing at the World Cup in Brazil, when their defence of the trophy ended in the group stage.

Coach Vicente del Bosque should be able to bring through fresh faces without it hindering their campaign to qualify from a group where their biggest challenge should come from Ukraine, who reached the play-offs for the World Cup.

Slovakia could also challenge while Belarus and Macedonia are hoping to reach a major tournament finals for the first time.

Group D The most intriguing group of all, containing the world champions Germany and tiny Gibraltar, appearing in a qualifying tournament for the first time since becoming UEFA members last year.

In addition, Poland, the Republic of Ireland under new manager Martin O'Neill, Scotland and even Temuri Ketsbaia's Georgia are all capable of qualifying automatically for the finals.

Group E Despite their abject performance at the World Cup, Roy Hodgson's England should still have too much for their rivals in Group E.

Nevertheless, Switzerland, who reached the last 16 in Brazil, are genuine contenders to top the group even if veteran coach Ottmar Hitzfeld has retired, with Bosnian Vladimir Petkovic now in charge.

Slovenia are the most likely of the other nations to compete in a group containing the world's 208th and last ranked team, San Marino.

Group F After reaching the last 16 at the World Cup, Greece will be favourites to win Group F and there are hopes that their new coach, the flamboyant Italian Claudio Ranieri, might make them a slightly more entertaining team to watch than the dour, defensive sides of the recent past.

They will once again come up against Romania, who they defeated in the play-offs for the World Cup, while Hungary and Northern Ireland are hoping to reach a major tournament finals for the first time since 1986 and Mixu Paatelainen's Finland are chasing a first ever finals.

Group G Fabio Capello must justify his astronomical salary and lead Russia to Euro 2016 in convincing fashion after their group stage exit at the World Cup, while building a side with one eye on the 2018 World Cup on home soil.

Erik Hamren's Sweden, determined to bounce back from missing the World Cup and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic preparing for one last crack at a major tournament, will be their main challengers.

However, Austria will hope to contend and Montenegro, with its population of only 650,000, are always dangerous dark horses.

Group H Antonio Conte will hope to enjoy a relatively trouble-free first qualifying campaign in charge of Italy, although the Azzurri rarely set the heather on fire in such competitions.

And Group H could be one of the toughest around, with Croatia boasting some world-class talent and both Norway and Bulgaria eager to impress.

Azerbaijan, coached by German Berti Vogts, should struggle alongside Malta.

Group I Portugal are the favourites in the only five-team group, in which France will also play although their results will not be taken into account as they have already qualified as hosts.

Denmark, who missed out on the World Cup, are still coached by veteran Morten Olsen, while Serbia have a new man in charge after Sinisa Mihajlovic was replaced by vastly experienced Dutchman Dick Advocaat.

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