The British Nations – How They’re Shaping Up

It’s a new season and a new qualification campaign filled with promise awaits us. Here we look to see how each nation is shaping up ahead of their respective qualifying campaigns.


Losing out to Iceland in the last 16 of the Euros was the last straw for the fans and their patience in manager Roy Hodgson. He was swiftly replaced by West Ham United manager Sam Allardyce, and it’s intriguing times for English fans.

England have always been used to attacking, passing the football with a hint of aggression in their play, but Allardyce isn’t renowned for playing that way. Instead, his teams are known for being battle-hardened and preferring the long-ball tactic to a target-man.

During his last couple of years at West Ham, Allardyce has used several different formations including 4-3-3, 4-3-2-1, and a basic 4-4-2. However, despite all of the different variations used by the veteran, one thing always stayed the same – his target men.

Even when he played two up front, he preferred to have two bustling strikers who could win headers and hold the ball up, so it will be interesting to see if he uses Harry Kane to some extent in this role. However, with the form the Tottenham striker is in at the moment, he may not be the man Allardyce goes with.

Several other questions hovering over England include what to do with Wayne Rooney. The much-maligned Manchester United striker has been widely criticised for his national team performances for several years, and calls have never been louder for England to drop him.

There is also the mysterious question of whether Leicester City midfielder Danny Drinkwater will be selected for the squad.

The gritty midfielder would add a real drive and aggression to the England midfield that was missing in their Euros campaign, and many fans of England were bemused at the decision to include the ineffective and injury-stricken Jack Wilshere over the in-form Leicester man.

So, despite the poor Summer, it’s an entertaining time for England fans, and potentially one of excitement if they can get their best foot forward under Allardyce.


The northerners didn’t have the best of qualification campaigns, but there was certainly an improvement in confidence in the Scots’ ranks afterwards. They went unbeaten against Ireland and Poland, two nations who qualified for Euro 2016, and put up strong showings in both performances against Germany.

It was one catastrophic performance in Georgia, a 1-0 defeat, that ultimately cost them their place at the top table with Europe’s top sides. However, Gordon Strachan has turned Scotland from a hard-to-beat defensive side to a hard-to-beat attacking outfit, with advanced wingers in the form of Shaun Maloney and Ikechi Anya.

They have adopted a positive, passing game over the last two years, and many members of the Tartan Army are positive about their chances of reaching Russia in 2018. To do that, they’ll have to go through the “Auld Enemy” England in their group stages.

It’s worth noting that nothing gets Scottish players and fans more up for football than a game against their British neighbours, and you can expect Strachan’s men to be putting everything they can into this group stage in a bid to overtake Allardyce’s England.

There’s a strong feeling that Scotland is growing a squad. With captain Scott Brown having retired from international football, the 2018 campaign will see a new face in the centre of the midfield.

Speculation has already begun that Hibernian midfielder, John McGinn could take the place of Celtic midfielder Brown, and that would perhaps bring a new and refreshing drive to the Scots’ midfield that they haven’t had in years.

Strachan has also favoured playing with a target man in Steven Fletcher, but his poor performances for both club and country, coupled with Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths’ 40-goal tally last season, means that it will be hard for Strachan to ignore the inclusion of Griffiths.

Fans have also been demanding this switch, but if it happened it would also signal a slight difference in how they will attack. For all of Griffiths’ efficiency in heading the ball, he doesn’t have the height to trouble top defenders, and it would mean the Scots’ wide men would have to cut inside and look for link-up play a lot more than they currently do.

It’s a time of transformation for Scotland, and it will be interesting to see the squad changes Strachan chooses as the team approach their first game against Malta. However, one thing is for sure, it’s now or never for Strachan when it comes to qualifying for a major tournament and ending their 18-year exile.


Nobody could’ve predicted the success of Wales in their last qualification campaign as well as their performance at the Euro 2016 itself. They went the furthest in the tournament of the home nations and showed a brand of expansive football that was so refreshing to see from a home side.

It’s no secret as to the main man behind their success bar manager Chris Coleman – Gareth Bale. His goals helped to fire Wales to the tournament, and added to that with a further three goals in France.

His dynamism in behind Sam Vokes/Hal Robson-Kanu is, without a doubt, going to be the primary asset to this ever-growing Welsh side as they look to qualify once again for the World Cup in Russia in 2018.

You’ve got to believe that Wales will also be looking to silence the critics who think that their Euro 2016 journey was a one-off, and it’s a group that they’ll very much be looking at with confidence.

Austria, Serbia, Ireland, Moldova, and Georgia are the opposition Coleman’s side will face, and they’ll fancy being in the top two out of those teams. Despite the availability of Bale, however, Coleman will be worried about the lack of fitness of several of his stars from the Summer.

Robson-Kanu went into the Euros without a club, and despite his fantastic contribution to the cause in France, he is still not plying his trade anywhere. The striker scored two excellent goals to help his side to Euro success. However, there is a big question mark hovering over whether he will be selected for the upcoming qualifier against Moldova.

Coleman is said to be unhappy with the striker’s lack of game time, and this could open the door for Sam Vokes to stake his claim for a place in the team. Another worry is the blow of losing Aaron Ramsay for the Moldova match to injury.

Despite the fact Wales will be confident of disposing of Moldova regardless, it’s still a blow for Coleman as he looks to continue his building of a squad with so much promise. His potential replacement, Johnny Williams, is also out injured as well.

It leaves Wales a little light in the midfield, and could even force them into a change to three in the midfield as opposed to four or five, but regardless the Welshmen should get off to a good start against the Moldovans.

It also helps that their key defender, captain Ashley Williams, is available and ready to lead his nation to success once again. Wales’ success was built on their solid foundations in defence, and this was built and kept together by the organisation and leadership of Williams.

He’s a massive presence in the Wales defence, and having him available instantly makes Wales a much better team than they would be without him. So while a couple of injuries threatens to halt what Wales are trying to build, it shouldn’t stop them from getting off to a positive start against Moldova.


Michael O’Neill pretty much achieved the utopia for any Northern Ireland manager – qualifying for a major tournament. The Northern Irish are seen as one of international football’s relative minnow nations, and the achievement in pipping Greece and Romania to the Euros was a massive success for them.

They also didn’t stop there, as they went on to defeat Ukraine and ensured to have their own mark in the competition. Wales ultimately ousted them in the last 16, but they made their nation a happy one.

What that’s done however, is build expectations in Northern Ireland to do it again. It will be a tougher ask this time around with World Champions Germany and strong outfits the Czech Republic and Norway in their group, but with O’Neill signing himself up for another campaign, confidence is as high as it could be in the Northern Ireland squad.

One interesting selection from O’Neill early on has been his decision to include Ross County striker Liam Boyce ahead of cult-hero Will Grigg.

Wigan striker Grigg had a song made up for him during the Summer that made the charts, however, that was the only impact he was able to make as he failed to make a single appearance for the Irish during the tournament.

Despite the fact Grigg has been dropped, it must be stressed that this was at his own request due to his partner expecting a baby. Boyce is an efficient finisher in his own right also.

He finished as Ross County’s top scorer last season and is on form after scoring five goals in his last three games – including a hat-trick in the Highland derby against Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

The squad has had something of an overhaul this time around, with Roy Carroll and Aaron Hughes dropped from the team, allowing the likes of Hartlepool’s Trevor Carson, Burton Albion’s Tom Flanagan, and Dundee’s Michael Duffy to be included in what is a squad of several fresh faces.

O’Neill has made it clear that all players who are included are there on merit and down to recent performances, and the squad are sure to be buoyed at the amount of opportunities currently being created in this Northern Irish team by O’Neill.

The astute tactician seems to be a stickler for giving youth players and inexperienced players a chance, and that’s sure to have every member of the squad ready to step it up a gear in a bid to keep their place or win one.

They set up in a defensive, counter-attacking stance at Euro 2016, with Kyle Lafferty the target main up front and pace down the wide areas through the likes of Niall McGinn. Due to their lack of real quality, this is sure to be their same approach once again as they look to play to their strengths.

What will be interesting is who gets dropped, if anyone, for the new faces coming into the squad. The likes of Duffy and Flanagan have every right to believe they deserve a place in the games, but whether O’Neill has this in mind is another thing.

Regardless, Northern Ireland continues to keep improving their pool depth and are in confident mood ahead of their opening game in the Czech Republic.


Slovakia vs. ENGLAND

Malta vs. SCOTLAND

WALES vs. Moldova

Czech Republic vs. NORTHERN IRELAND


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