UEFA Europa League Cup Trophy.

Looking ahead to England’s Euro 2020 qualifiers

While the 2018 World Cup is still a recent memory, the qualifying rounds for the Euro 2020 football tournament are only just around the corner. Gareth Southgate’s team will be keen to continue their great run of form that saw them reach the World Cup semi-finals and also get in the last four of the Nations League. So who do England have to beat to make an appearance in UEFA Euro 2020 competition?

The Euro 2020 tournament marks the 60th birthday of the competition, and it will be held in 12 different European cities in June and July 2020. The contest will be notable for the fact that it will feature the controversial VAR technology for the first time. Portugal defied the bookies by winning the Euro 2016 in France, and with even Germany suffering a poor run of form recently, hopes will be high that this could be England’s time to shine.

Who will England play in the Euro 2020 qualifiers?

The draw for the Euro 2020 qualifiers took place at the start of December 2018, and it saw England find their place in Group A opposite the likes of the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Kosovo. There will be a handful of matches in March, whilst the qualifiers conclude over a set of games in late summer and autumn.

Gareth Southgate will be more than happy with the draw that should see the England team face a fairly straightforward path to the Euro 2020 Finals. This is especially so, as Northern Ireland look to face a much tougher challenge by being drawn in the same group as Germany and the Netherlands.

Scotland also has a difficult task ahead of them with qualifying matches against the likes of Belgium and Russia, whilst Wales will have to play well to stay ahead of teams such as Croatia, Slovakia and Hungary.

The overall qualifying structure has been confused a little by the emergence of the Nations League which concludes in June. But the basic rules are that if a team wins or gets a runner-up spot on their group, they will go directly into the Euro 2020 finals. So which teams could provide England with the potential for an upset?

Czech Republic

England’s toughest challenge in their Euro 2020 qualifiers is undoubtedly the Czech Republic. This team might not be up to the standards that were enjoyed when they were part of Czechoslovakia, but they are packed full of quality players and have recently enjoyed some results that should serve as a warning to the England side.

The Czech Republic managed to scrape a hard-fought 0-1 away win against Poland in the Nations League in November last year, and other recent friendly victories over the likes of Iceland and Nigeria show that this side could pose plenty of problems.

Expect a tight, defensive game from Czech team when they come to Wembley on 22 March for the opening Group A match. Whilst England should be able to win this match, Jaroslav Silhavy’s team are always capable of digging in deep and mounting a swift counter-attack. England has only met the Czech Republic twice before, and with one win and one draw, it shows that Gareth Southgate’s side should have the upper hand here.

Montenegro

Once England has met the Czech Republic, they face what should be a pretty easy away match at Montenegro on 25 March. This tiny Balkan nation is something of an unknown quantity on the global footballing stage, and whilst they had something of a ‘golden era’ in their World Cup and Euro qualifiers in 2012 and 2014, they have hit something of a slump recently.

Despite this, it’s worth nothing that Montenegro are currently placed in 44th position in the FIFA World Rankings ahead of the likes of Russia and Japan, and it’s clear that Ljubisa Tumbakovic’s team could cause a few problems for Gareth Southgate’s men.

The last time that England met Montenegro was in 2013, and the 4-1 win showed the usual English dominance. However, the previous three meetings had all ended in draws, and so it’s clear that nothing should be taken for granted here.

Bulgaria

England won’t get to face Bulgaria until 7 September, and the East Europeans will certainly face a tough task in getting anything from their away game. Bulgaria has had a dismal decade of football, but there are signs that there could be a revival underway.

For a moment, it looked like Bulgaria were going to win qualification to the 2018 World Cup with an astonishing 2-0 victory over the Netherlands. And whilst the team couldn’t capitalise on their chances, Petar Hubchev’s could be the dark horses of Group A.

Bulgaria has managed to beat the likes of Portugal in recent friendlies, and whilst their inconsistency can lead them to draw with lowly-ranked sides like Cyprus in the Nations League, they should not be underestimated. Thankfully, England has never been beaten by Bulgaria and they will be hoping to pick up their seventh win in this encounter in September.

Kosovo

On 10 September, England will play host to Kosovo and it will mark the very first time that these two sides have met. As such Kosovo will be something of an unknown quantity for Gareth Southgate’s team, and the fact that Kosovo are unbeaten in their last five matches and have picked up no less than 15 goals should provide plenty of caution.

Despite this, there is little denying the fact that this should be a walkover for England. The small Balkan state just hasn’t had enough experience necessary to trouble England too much, as they have only been recognised by FIFA since 2014.

Whilst impressive scorelines against lowly-ranked teams like Albania and Azerbaijan might show that Kosovo can play some decent football, it remains to be seen how they will cope against strong sides like England. As such, we can expect this match to give England a chance to boost that all-important goal difference to seal their appearance in the 2020 Euro Finals.