Euro 2020 qualifying Group H: Are France and Iceland the favourites to go through?
The 2020 edition of the European Championships will be a special one. To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the quadrennial event, it will be held in 12 different cities in 12 countries, between 12th June to 12th July.
The draws for the qualifying groups were recently revealed, with the process set to be a bit more complicated this time around thanks to the UEFA Nations League. There are 10 groups in all, with the top 2 teams from each one qualifying for the finals. The remaining 4 spots will be filled via playoffs, which will be contested by 16 teams.
Group H analysis
The teams drawn in Group H are France, Iceland, Turkey, Albania, Moldova and Andorra. The first round of matches is scheduled to take place on the 22nd of March, 2019.
France and Albania were drawn in the same group in the 2016 tournament, but the latter will find it hard to qualify this time around.
The world champions are naturally the favourites to top the group. In spite of having one of the most inexperienced squads at the World Cup in Russia, their raw talent coupled with the managerial skills of Didier Deschamps led France all the way to the trophy.
The likes of Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann have carried over their form for their respective club teams.
They were drawn with Germany and the Netherlands in a tricky Nations League group, and finished second.
A 2-0 loss to the resurgent Dutch in mid-November proved to be the decisive game. This means that France are not assured of a playoff spot, but they will not be unduly concerned by that.
Deschamps will be able to call upon most of his squad members from Russia for the qualifiers, apart from other incredibly talented players like Anthony Martial, Alexandre Lacazette and Kingsley Coman waiting on the sidelines.
Most of them will still be at their peak, and anything less than a first-placed finish will be considered a disappointment.
Iceland, Turkey and Albania to fight for second place?
The second automatic qualifying spot will likely come down to Iceland, Turkey and Albania. The Nordic nation of Iceland were a revelation at the 2016 Euros, beating England in a memorable 2-1 win in the round of 16, before losing to finalists France in the quarters.
That wave of optimism helped them breeze through the 2018 World Cup qualifiers as well, in which they actually finished above Croatia in Group I.
They struggled at the finals though, and crashed out in the group stage. Under new coach Erik Hamren, they were also poor in the Nations League, losing all four matches to Belgium and Switzerland, relegating them to the second tier.
Led by Cardiff City's Aron Gunnarsson, Iceland have enough natural talent to carry them through. They will, however, face competition from Albania and Turkey.
For the former, the 2016 event was actually their first ever time at the Euros. They did go out at the group stage, but they have a refreshingly young and exciting squad, led by Napoli's Elseid Hysaj, with some other noticeable names being Thomas Strakosha, Etrit Berisha and Taulant Xhaka.
Having disappointingly finished bottom of their Nations League group behind Scotland and Israel, the Albanians will be eager to make amends.
Turkey will be hoping to make their fifth appearance at the Euros in 2020. Since crashing out during the group stage in 2016, they've been largely disappointing, failing to qualify for the World Cup for a fourth successive time.
Their recent performances have been even more underwhelming when you consider their highly talented squad. Cenk Tosun, Enes Unal, Cengiz Under and Caglar Soyuncu have all been making waves in Europe recently, but not for their national team.
There will not be a lot of expectations from Moldova and Andorra, considering that they're currently ranked 170th and 133rd respectively.
In spite of their post-World Cup disappointments, France should have no trouble qualifying from Group H. But the three-way battle for second place should be a very interesting and compelling one.
The qualifiers will kick off in March next year, and will conclude in mid-November. A period of nine months is a long time, especially in international football, making this a test of consistency and endurance.
Group H is also one of only two that do not feature any team that is assured of a playoff spot, and that will potentially increase the stakes.