With England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland all currently experiencing good starts to their respective Euro 2016 qualifying campaigns, the dream that all nations could reach the finals has a distinct possibility of becoming a reality.
If all Home-Nations and the ROI were to arrive in France in 20 months time it would be an inaugural event, as never have all the British Isle teams and the Republic of Ireland appeared at the same major tournament.
The likelihood of all sides making it to the same major tournament has been enhanced by the expansion of participating teams in the finals from 16 to 24.
This Friday sees two of those nations battle it out in a Celtic contest as the Republic of Ireland travel to Glasgow to take on Scotland.
Each side could reduce the chances of a British and Irish flavour at the European Championships but with two certain qualifiers from each group and 3rd place getting a shot at a play-off, Ireland and Scotland will be confident of successfully navigating the road to France.
The Celtic cousins have begun well though, in a tough group with Germany and Poland. Scotland only lost 2-1 to the Germans in Dortmund while Martin O’Neill’s men went one better, securing a last gasp 1-1 draw with the World Champions courtesy of John O’Shea’s flick from 10 yards.
The Parkhead clash is a pivotal match-up for each side with the result determining who will hold the upper hand to challenging the Germans for top-spot.
The Poles remain the joker in the pack in Group D after their 2-0 defeat of Joachim Loew’s charges in Warsaw.
Despite Germany’s relatively mediocre start to proceedings, they are bound to regain momentum as the campaign continues due to their undoubted class and quality.
That leaves Ireland, Scotland and Poland to battle it out for 2nd and 3rd. The next round of qualifiers will determine the direction the group will take as proceedings remain tight. Poland top the group on 7 points – just ahead of Ireland on goal difference – after a fantastic start.
Despite this, Scotland and Ireland will hold dreams and aspirations of booking their ticket for a long summer in 2016 along the French Riviera. Ireland and Scotland’s historical rival, England appear to have a straightforward group.
Roy Hodgson’s men face competition from Switzerland, Slovenia and Lithuania. But with a 100 % record after three games and favourites going into the game against the Slovenians at Wembley on Saturday, England have laid the foundations for an undemanding qualification series.
With a 2-0 away win against Switzerland, regarded as the next strongest team in the group, the most difficult tie has been negotiated and Wayne Rooney and company will feel all further games should be won.
England expect to qualify. The focus from the management and players will be to banish the demons of a tame exit from the World Cup in Brazil. They will want to enter Euro 2016, and finally produce displays in a major tournament that reflect their undoubted talent.
England have the luxury of possessing top class players in all positions. But perhaps still don’t possess the best player in Britain right now as Wales’ Gareth Bale holds that mantle.
With the Real Madrid winger among their ranks along with other Champions League talent in Arsenal ‘s Aaron Ramsey and Liverpool’s Joe Allen, the Welsh will feel this is their best opportunity to reach a major finals for the first time since the 1958 World Cup.
The optimism in Wales will only have risen with the national side unbeaten after three games. Next up for Wales is tough test in Brussels against Belgium who are currently ranked number four in the world.
Apart from the Belgians though, Bale and his teammates will be confident of over-coming Bosnia, Israel and Cyprus to secure an automatic spot in the finals.
If optimism has risen for Wales, it has sky-rocketed across the Irish Sea for Northern Ireland. The Northern Irish have climbed to 43rd in the world after three wins from three in Group F so far, including two sensational away wins in Hungary and at the home of former Euro winners Greece.
Similar to the other Home-Nations and the Republic, Northern Ireland have little to fear with sides of a similar level situated alongside them in their pool in the shape of Romania and Finland along with the aforementioned Greece and Hungary who have been disposed of.
Michael O’Neill’s men travel to Romania with the hope of gaining another three points, which would put them five points clear at the summit of their section and in pole position to claim a place in next year’s finals draw.
The new structure devised for the European Championships has been criticised is some quarters with the quality of the finals tournament being diluted. But the British and Irish nations appear to be on course to benefit from the new make-up of the qualification system.
With the expansion of teams within the finals itself, we can begin to ponder what a tournament would be like with England, Scotland, Wales and the two Irish sides. The notion that all Home-Nations and the ROI will qualify for Euro 2016 has become feasible.
The path has been cleared by UEFA for the Home-Nations and the ROI to cross the Channel to France 2016. It is up to the respective nations to take that chance and make the next Euros one of the most exhilarating ever for Britain and Ireland.
Sean O’Neill, Pundit Arena