No slip-ups in sight for England’s Euro 2016 qualification route

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An array of famous footballing alumni performed their unscrewing duties with aplomb as the Euro 2016 qualification groups were drawn at the weekend, with the balls falling kindly for Roy Hodgson’s England.

For the first time, the European Championships will be contested by 24 teams, meaning more qualification groups were needed and thinning out the number of top teams in each as a result.

The relative slip in competitiveness is reflected by Ladbrokes’ prices in the group-winner market, where every team drawn from pot one, bar Greece, are odds on to prevail. England, who want this man to feature heavily during qualification, are afforded odds of 1/3 in that respect.

Hodgson will face a former employer in Switzerland, who he managed between 1992 and 1995, in the toughest games of the group.

The silver lining in drawing the world’s sixth-ranked side, and 5/2 shots to win Group E at the World Cup this summer, is that the away game is the very first match of the qualification process.

Getting a win in the hardest game of the group first should set the Three Lions up perfectly and with games against San Marino, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia to follow, the 1/3 price on England winning the group should shrivel quickly.

Elsewhere, thoughts of a Gareth Bale-inspired group win for Wales may have to be put on ice as they are given a 14/1 chance of beating Belgium (1/3) and Bosnia (3/1) to top spot.

But with two teams from each group qualifying and the customary play-offs also in operation, a first major tournament appearance since 1976 shouldn’t be too far from Welsh thoughts.

Both Scotland and the Republic of Ireland were drawn together in Group D along with Germany and Poland.

Gordon Strachan and Martin O’Neill’s sides were both handed 14/1 odds to win the group and will face each other in November, then June in what the Scotsman expects to be “cup tie” atmosphere.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Matt Wiggins

No idyllic sound comes close to leather on willow for Matt, whose previous experience includes stints with Spin Magazine and Surrey County Cricket Club. It's not just cricket that interests him though, with football, golf, tennis and any American sport not played on ice all high on his list of favourites.