FIFA 16: What we can learn from Euro 2016 qualifying

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1. Robert Lewandowski is the world’s best striker

Some people might posit that his extraordinary goal scoring exploits for Bayern Munich are only down to the service he receives, inferior Bundesliga opposition, Pep Guardiola’s genius or any combination of the above. With 13 he was the top goal scorer in Euro 2016 qualifying and it looks increasingly like his almost unbelievable current run is not just form, but in fact an indication that he is the best out-and-out centre-forward on the planet.

2. Northern Ireland will take some beating

Michael O’Neill’s team finished top of Group F losing only once along the way, patently possessing team spirit almost unrivalled in international football. They know their limits and play in a way to extract the most from their strengths; defending as a compact unit and taking chances that do come their way, often through set-pieces and star striker Kyle Lafferty, who scored seven of their 16 goals. All of that makes up a formidable fourth seed proposition at Euro 2016.

3. Belgium are still searching for the right formula

At the World Cup last summer and throughout Euro 2016 qualifying Belgium have remained thoroughly underwhelming. They may have won Group B ahead of Wales and have won so many games recently that they now top the Fifa world rankings, but were only ever truly convincing in a 3-1 home win against Bosnia. Wilmots needs to find a way to get the most from what is a hugely exciting squad because if he does, they have a genuine chance of going the distance.

4. It’s worth sticking with the real minnows

Many people think qualification should dispose of the lowest seed teams as they provide absolutely nothing in the way of genuine competition.

5. Euro 2020 concept is terrible

Euro 2020 will see 13 cities share the competition, with as far as 2700 miles between two of the host venues. That makes for an incredibly expensive prospect for fans increasingly priced out of the game. France 2016 will be great; there’s no point changing the format.

6. Consistency is key in production

Holland’s squad these days consists of two different age groups of talented players with a gaping hole when it comes to players in their prime; an age bracket in which the Dutch have approximately zero world class players.
The period in which they failed to produce enough youngsters that went on to fulfil their potential has finally caught up with them, as they missed out on qualification for a European Championship for the first time since 1984.

7. It’s just about getting to the tournament

England qualified with the only 100 per cent record, the second-highest goal tally (31 goals scored) and the second-best defensive record (three goals conceded in 10 games), but have still managed to do little to change the opinion of the majority that they possess neither the quality nor the mental strength to go the distance in France.

8. The competition is better for expansion

The decision to expand the European Championship to 24 teams from the usual 16 was criticised in some quarters as devaluing the tournament, no longer a competition only for Europe’s elite.
Such growth might marginally increase the likelihood of a thrashing in France next summer, but its main impact has been in providing so many of the smaller nations with a chance when they would previously have been no-hopers.