Born in the south east of Ireland, Simon put his life-long love of football to good use when he started a successful independent blog in 2010. That opened up an alternative route to a career in journalism, and having had work published across a number of sites and publications, Simon joined the staff at Spotlight Sports Group in 2018.
The Euro 2020 Qualification Group stage is approaching its conclusion, with one final international break left to secure the remaining spots for next year’s Finals.
Six teams have already cemented their place in next summer’s tournament, with 14 more berths still up for grabs in advance of the final round of Group fixtures.
With the stakes at their highest point and the battle for crucial qualification points intensifying, let’s take a closer look at some of the stories worth following during the final international break of 2019.
Remember – we’ll be covering all of the action in detail, with betting tips for each of this week’s Euro 2020 qualification fixtures on our match previews page.
Split in the England camp?
In a sensational development, England star Raheem Sterling has been axed from Gareth Southgate’s XI for the Three Lions Group A qualifier against Montenegro on Thursday following a bust-up with teammate Joe Gomez.
Sterling and Gomez clashed at the weekend in a fraught Premier League title bout between Manchester City and Liverpool at Anfield, and it seems the fallout from that heated contest has been far reaching.
Gareth Southgate will be hoping that the Liverpool/City inter-club rivalry doesn’t drive a wedge through a squad that also features John Stones, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jordan Henderson and, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, though the situation undoubtedly remains an extremely volatile one.
England face Montenegro at Wembley on Thursday in a fixture where the Three Lions are unlikely to miss Sterling too much. A win for the Three Lions will secure their place at next year’s Euro 2020 Finals.
Michael O’Neil set for Northern Ireland swansong
This week, Michael O’Neil will almost certainly write the final chapter of his career as Northern Ireland manager – a post that the Portadown born coach has held since 2011.
Having recently taken the reins at Championship club Stoke City, O’Neil will oversee Northern Ireland’s final Group C fixtures against Netherlands and Germany before turning his full attention to his role with the Potters.
However, in the unlikely event that O’Neil can somehow mastermind wins over strong Dutch and German teams this week, the 50-year old will return to guide Northern Ireland though their subsequent play-off contests in March.
The much more likely scenario however, will see O’Neil sign off as Northern Ireland’s manager this week, having enjoyed an incredible successful spell in charge.
O’Neil led Northern Ireland to their first ever European Championship Finals at Euro 2016, where the team were eliminated in the first knock out round by eventual Semi Finalists Wales.
Make or break time for Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland are perched precariously at the summit of Group D, in the knowledge that only a win against Denmark in Dublin on Monday 18th will guarantee them a place at the Euro 2020 Finals next summer.
Ireland and the Danes in first and second place have amassed 12 points each, with Switzerland one place and one point further back in third, however, the Boys in Green have played one game more than their Group D qualification rivals.
With Switzerland and Denmark expected to claim three points from their catch-up fixtures at home to Georgia and Gibraltar respectively, the Republic could be in third position by the time they kick-off their final match against the Danes next week.
Ireland held Denmark to a 1-1 draw when the teams met in their reverse group fixture in Copenhagen, though the Danes 5-1 win on their last trip to Dublin in a World Cup playoff match in 2017 remains relatively fresh in the memory.
Doping controversy in Group I?
Euro 2020 Qualification Group I had looked done and dusted after Belgium and Russia streaked ahead of the competition to collect north of 20 points each after eight fixtures, however a major story on the cusp of breaking could have yet have huge ramifications for everyone involved.
A compelling New York Times article suggests that Russia’s place at the Euro 2020 Finals could be in jeopardy after a doping scandal rocked the country, and the rest of the combatants in Group I will be watching on with interest as this story unravels.
In the event that Russia go on to lose their place at Euro 2020, Scotland’s dead rubber against Cyprus could suddenly become a game of real significance.
Currently, the Cypriots hold third place in Group I behind Belgium and the aforementioned Russians, and Scotland in fourth travel to Nicosia to play Cyprus on Saturday before closing out their campaign with a home game against Kazakhstan next Tuesday.
France and Turkey battle for first place
World Cup champions France would have expected to coast their way to top spot in what had looked a weak field in Group H, yet Les Bleus find themselves in second place ahead of the final rounds of fixtures.
In an unexpected turn of events, qualification outsiders Turkey top the pile in Group H having taken 19 points from eight games, and now the Turks will go head-to-head with France over the next seven days for the title of group winners.
France must successfully negotiate games against Moldova (H) and Albania (A) to overtake Turkey who face Iceland (H) and Andorra (A) respectively their final Group H outings.
Having taken four points from two matches against France earlier in the group campaign, Turkey will be desperate to tighten their grip on a position that they will feel they deserve to keep a hold of.
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