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5 teams who could make their European Championship debut in UEFA Euro 2016

Neelabhra Roy

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup coming to a fitting end, Euro 2016 is already round the corner with the qualifiers beginning a couple of months later.France 2016 will be the first European Championship which will feature 24 teams, having been expanded from the previous 16 team format. The expansion of the format gives a chance to the middle of the road nations a chance to qualify, some of them even for the first time. Since its inception since 1960, every European Championship has seen a debutant. With the expansion,many teams can fancy their chances to appear for their maiden European Championship.Here are 5 nations who are likely to make their debut at the European Championship:

#5 Iceland: FIFA Rank 47

Iceland beat relatively tougher opponents, Norway and Slovenia, and held Switzerland to a 4-4 draw to surprisingly finish second in their group behind Switzerland, and then went on to qualify for the playoffs where they were beaten by Croatia. Icelands positive results in 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign has, however, boosted the teams morale, and they might just be the surprise packing during the Euro 2016 qualifying rounds.

Iceland are in Group A of Euro 2016 qualifying which also consists of former champions Netherlands, Czech Republic, Turkey, Latvia and Kazakhstan. Netherlands and Czech Republic are favoured to take the 2 automatic qualifying spots which leaves Iceland, Turkey, Latvia and Kazakhstan to battle it out for 3rdspot.

Turkey and Latvia both both struggled throughout the 2014 World Cup qualifiers while Kazakhstan only adds up to the weight of the group. Iceland would be looking to take a step ahead to qualify for their major tournament with their hopes of qualifying mainly depending on captain Aron Gunnarsson , striker Kolbeinn Sigporsson, midfielders Birkir Bjarnasson and Gylfi Sigurdsson.Defenders Kari Arnason and Ragnar Sigurdsson, and goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson had alsoimpressed during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers

#4 Israel: FIFA Rank 67

The expansion of the format has benefitted Israel more than any other nation as the Blues and Whites have had the experience of ending 3rdin their qualifying group more than any other team in the last decade.

Israel has a fair chance of qualifying for their first major tournament as aUEFA member and their first major tournament since 1970 FIFAWorld Cup.Israels qualifying group consists of 2014 World Cup quarter-finalists, Belgium, 2014 World Cup debutants Bosnia and Herzegovina, Wales, Cyprus and Andorra. Israel are expected to get the better of Wales, Cyprus and Andorra who are struggling opponents, however, defeating Belgium and Bosnia and Herzegovina would be a difficult task. Although an upset or two might automatically helpthem qualify for France 2016.

Coach Eli Guttman would be looking forward to the experience of captain Yossi Benayoun and defender Tel Ben Haim. Attacking responsibilities will be lying on the shoulders of Elyaniv Barda, Ben Sahar and Eden Ben Basat. For 34-year old captain Yossi Benayoun, this would probably be his last chance to appear in the finals of a major tournament.

#3 Slovakia: FIFA Rank 46

Ever since Slovakia made it to the round of 16 in their maiden FIFA World Cup in South Africa, 2010, they have struggled in the qualifying campaigns, which followed them ending on the 4thspot in their Euro 2012 qualifying group, and ending 3rd in their 2014 FIFAWorld Cup qualifying group behind Bosnia and Herzegovina and Greece. Theyhave also beenstruggling against weaker nations like Armenia, Liechtenstein, and even UEFA newcomers Gibraltar.

However, with the expansion of the format, Slovakia now have a fair chance of qualifying for their maiden European Championship and their second major championship. Slovakias group has reigning champions Spain, Ukraine , Belarus, Macedonia and Luxembourg. With Spain heavily contended to take top spot, it will be an interesting battle between Ukraine, Slovakia and Belarus to take the 2ndand3rdplace in which Ukraine will end 2ndand Slovakia in 3rdplace.

With 2010 World Cup star Robert Vittek and experienced striker Stanislav Sestak in their roster, Slovakia could be the lucky team to automatically emerge as the best 3rdplaced team. Skipper Marek Hamsik, goalkeeper Jan Mucha and defender Martin Skrtel would be key for Slovakias success in the qualifiers as well.

#2 Serbia: FIFA Rank 31

The Eagles have neverqualified for a European Championship as an independent nation, and France 2016 is a golden opportunity for Serbia to make their maiden Euro appearance as an independent nation.

For a team who have ended their previous 2 qualifying groups in 3rdplace, the expansion of the format is surely an important asset for Serbia. Serbias qualifying group comprises of Portugal, Denmark, Armenia and Albania. Portugal is the heavy favorite to take top spot with Denmark and Serbia left to battle for 2ndand 3rdspots. Serbia are expected to end in 3rdplace and are a heavy contender to qualify from the playoffs.

The Serbian side lacks an experienced striker so a lot would depend upon defenders Branislav Ivanovic and Aleksandar Kolarov to shut out the opponents. As far as attacking is concerned, it would depend on young strikers Filip Dordevic and Aleksandar Mitrovic. A lot of responsibilities will lieon the shoulders of midfielders Zoran Tosic, Radosav Petrovic and Dusan Tadic as they will be the key for setting up goals as well as stopping the goals.

#1 Bosnia and Herzegovina: FIFA Rank 19

Bosnia and Herzegovina have had their golden age of football in the last 5 years, making it to the playoffs in each major tournament qualifying campaigns, and qualifying for their maiden major championship, the 2014 FIFA World Cupafter finishing at the top of their group above Greece. The Dragons, however, couldnt perform up to expectations as the team was eliminated in the first round.

The Euro 2016 could be the first European Championship appearance for the Dragons, and with players like Asmir Begovic, Emir Spahic, Zvjezdan Misimovic, Miralem Pjanic, Vedad Ibisevic and Edin Dzeko, who ply their trade in top flight European clubs, Bosnia can easily make it to their maiden European Championship, and are surely a contender to qualify for the round of 16. Bosnias qualifying group consists of Belgium, Israel, Wales, Cyprus and Andorra with Bosnia, and Belgium by far being the 2 standout teams to take first and second spots and automatically qualify for the competition.

Head coach and former Yugoslavia midfielder Safet Susic, who recently signed a 2 year extension contract with the Bosnian team would be expecting a lot from strikers Edin Dzeko, the nations top goalscorer,and Vedad Ibisevic,who scored Bosnias first World Cup goal.

Edited by Staff Editor

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