Euro 2016: Can the home nations qualify?

Sports Mole weighs up the four home nations' chances of qualifying for Euro 2016, as qualification for the France tournament begins on Sunday.

The qualifying campaign for Euro 2016 will get underway later today, with the first round of matches taking place over the next week.

The 15th edition of the championships, which will be held in France, will see the competition expanded from 16 teams to 24, giving those who have missed out in recent tournaments more chance of being involved this time around.

The top two teams from each qualifying group will book their place in the competition, while the third-place sides will take part in a playoff.

Here, Sports Mole looks at the home nations' chances of reaching the finals.

England
FIFA ranking: 20
Qualifying group opponents: Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, San Marino
Previous championships: England have qualified for the European championships eight times before, with two semi-final appearances, and reached the quarter-finals at the last tournament in 2012.
Can England qualify? Roy Hodgson's side were the top seeds for their group when the qualifying draw took place, but Switzerland start as favourites in the group after reaching the last 16 at this summer's World Cup, where the Three Lions were knocked out in the group stage. England took a young, relatively inexperienced squad to Brazil, but with another two years of international experience and a qualifying campaign under their belts, the likes of Raheem Sterling, Luke Shaw and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should be well-established members of the national side by the time that Euro 2016 gets underway. England fans may be feeling pessimistic at the moment, but with the top two teams reaching the finals, there should be nothing to stop England booking a place in the tournament, although they should expect fierce competition from the Swiss to top the group. England start with the trickiest fixture of the campaign tomorrow evening with a trip to Switzerland, where Hodgson was coach between 1992 and 1995.

England's Daniel Sturridge vies with Norway's Ruben Yttergard Jenssen during the international friendly football match between England and Norway at Wembley Stadium in north London on September 3, 2014© Getty Images

Scotland
FIFA ranking: 28
Qualifying group opponents: Germany, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Georgia, Gibraltar
Previous championships: Scotland have played in two European championships, qualifying for the 1992 and 1996 tournaments, but have never progressed beyond the first round.
Can Scotland qualify? This will be Gordon Strachan's first full qualifying campaign in charge of the Scottish national side, having been appointed midway through their World Cup qualifiers. There was little he could do to save that campaign, but Scotland won three of their last four outings, including back-to-back wins over Croatia to leave confidence high in the camp. It is a tricky draw for the Scots, sharing a group with the world champions, but they are currently the second-highest ranked team in the group, moving above the Republic of Ireland and Poland thanks to their good run of form in recent months. With the likes of Chris Martin, Steven Naismith and Jordan Rhodes all looking in fine form early in the new season, Scotland could cause a few surprises along the way, although it will be a tricky start with a visit to Germany. The World Cup winners will surely top the group, but Scotland will be pushing for the second spot if they can maintain their current run and the third-place playoff spot is definitely a realistic target. The Republic of Ireland and Poland will both provide stiff competition.

Steven Naismith of Scotland in action during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group A match between Scotland and Croatia at Hampden Park on October 15, 2013© Getty Images

Wales
FIFA ranking: 41
Qualifying group opponents: Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Israel, Cyprus, Andorra
Previous championships: Wales have never played in the finals of the European championships, reaching the qualifying quarter-finals in 1976, but failing to progress to the tournament. They also came close to qualifying in 2004, but lost to Russia in their playoff.
Can Wales qualify? Wales supporters were cautiously optimistic when the draw for Euro 2016 qualification took place. Belgium and Bosnia-Herzegovina are both currently ranked above Chris Coleman's team, but Wales faced the Belgians in their World Cup qualifiers, sharing a 1-1 draw with them less than a year ago. Their chances of securing a place at the France tournament may rest heavily on the fitness of the squad, as a Wales side which includes the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey will test the best of nations. It took the Welsh players a little while to settle under Coleman, but their strong finish to the 2014 World Cup qualifiers leaves them in good form ahead of their match against Andorra on Tuesday evening. The build up to that tie has been blighted by concerns over the new artificial pitch in Andorra, but the Welsh team remain favourites to make a winning start. Realistically, Wales will need a bit of luck to pip Bosnia or Belgium to one of the top two places, but they will fancy their chances of reaching the playoffs.

Sebastien Pocognoli of Belgium is beaten by Aaron Ramsey of Wales during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group A match between Belgium and Wales at King Baudouin Stadium on October 15, 2013© Getty Images

Northern Ireland
FIFA ranking: 95
Qualifying group opponents: Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland, Faroe Islands
Previous championships: Like Wales, Northern Ireland are still looking to make their debut in the Euros.
Can Northern Ireland qualify? Northern Ireland slid down the world rankings during the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, winning just one of their 10 matches. The most optimistic of Northern Irish supporters will argue that the draw was kind to Michael O'Neill's side, as they avoided the heavyweights of European football like Germany and Spain, but that could go against them too. If the group is a closely-fought one as expected, their rivals will be careful not to give away cheap goals and points. O'Neill has named just seven players over 30 in his 24-man squad for their match against Hungary this evening, three of which are goalkeepers. If they can turn around their form early in the campaign then there is an outside chance that they might sneak into third place and the playoffs, but it seems likely that this tournament is too soon for the young squad.

Northern Ireland's defender Ryan McGivern heads the ball during the WC2014 qualifying football match Portugal vs Northern Ireland at the Dragao Stadium in Porto, on October 16, 2012© Getty Images

You can follow live coverage of all the home nations' first qualifying matches with Sports Mole from this evening.

Wales' Joe Allen in action against Ireland on August 15, 2013
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