The best players in Europe are heading for the Euro 2020 extravaganza in June, and I for one can hardly wait. England, France and Belgium are the most fancied nations, but the Netherlands, Spain and Germany are sure to have something to say about that.
England are the marginal favourites but much could change between now and summer.
And for starters we have the play-offs, kicking off on 26th March; and there are some tasty talents on show even at this stage. Let’s take a look at three of the biggest stars, but first a run through of who’s facing who.
So which teams are going through?
Bosnia and Herzegovina vs Northern Ireland
This is a tough assignment for Northern Ireland against a side with real quality. Bosnia had some big wins in Group J, including a 4-1 hammering of qualifiers Finland. Inconsistency dogged the Bosnians, but on paper they should have too much for the Irish.
Leicester City’s centre back Jonny Evans is a key man for the underdogs but the men in green lack any serious firepower.
Georgia vs Belarus
Georgia found themselves in the devilishly difficult Group D, and eventually finished fourth behind Switzerland, Denmark and the Republic of Ireland.
Meanwhile Belarus hardly had it any easier, landing in the midst of the Group C battle between Germany and the Netherlands.
Republic of North Macedonia vs Kosovo
The new boys of international football Kosovo gave England a fright at Wembley, eventually losing 5-3, while Macedonia came third in a fairly even group containing Poland and Austria.
Norway vs Serbia
This is the tie of the play-offs between two sides bang in form. Norway are unbeaten in six, while Serbia have won four from the last five.
Serbia Captain Aleksandar Kolarov is a defensive rock with a shot like a rocket, while Bournemouth striker Josh King has pace to burn for Norway.
On balance it’s Serbia for me.
Slovakia vs Republic of Ireland
One of the most gifted players in the world comes up against Premier League grit as Slovakia’s Marek Hamsik, now playing in China will hope to take his team through to the finals.
The Republic of Ireland’s Matt Doherty, Jeff Hendrick and Shane Duffy are all battlers.
Bulgaria vs Hungary
This is a tie between tow out of form sides. Hungary have five defeats in six, with just a solitary win against Azerbaijan, while Bulgaria have four defeats in six, but signed off their qualifying campaign with a 1-0 win over the Czech Republic.
The Fifa rankings, Hungary 52nd and Bulgaria at 59th reflect their malaise, but at 1.66 Hungary will hope to stop Bulgaria’s campaign.
Iceland vs Romania
Romania had high hopes of qualifying from Group F, but a draw with Norway followed by defeats to Spain and Sweden put an end to that ambition.
They now come up against a side which has made a habit of qualifying for finals, inspired by Everton’s playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson, and the Icemen may have Burnley winger Johann Berg Gudmundsson available after injury.
Scotland vs Israel
Scotland won their last three games, all expected victories, after they had suffered back to back 4-0 losses at the hands of Belgium and Russia.
Their opponents came fifth in Group G, finishing above only Latvia, and it would be major Euro 2020 news if Israel was to make it through at the expense of the Scots.
Three players to look out for
Andy Robertson: Scotland
This gifted wingback is a key player in Liverpool’s march to a first Premier League title in 30 years, and as one of the first names on the team-sheet, he will have a big part to play in the Reds Champions League defence.
Equally impressive at the back as well as raiding down the wing, he has one of the best deliveries in football and would definitely grace the finals.
Miralem Pjanic : Bosnia
The Juventus midfielder is blessed with the ability to score and create goals, and as a big star in Serie A’s serial winners, he’s the main reason Bosnia are fancied to see off Northern Ireland.
Dusan Tadic: Serbia
Tadic didn’t really realise his potential with Southampton in the Premier League, but his 37 goals in 56 games for an exciting Ajax side show just what a talent he is.
With 67 caps he’s a key member of Serbia’s attack and will have a big part to play against Norway.
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