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Netherlands

 By Michael Cox

Can Verratti, De Gea and Kane break into their national teams' starting XIs?

England head coach Roy Hodgson, and striker Wayne Rooney are confident about Harry Kane's debut in the European qualifier against Lithuania.

The European Championships' expansion to a 24-team tournament has a multitude of effects -- one is that it effectively gives the major countries a free pass. Therefore, managers have more license to experiment and evolve their side with significantly less risk of failure.

Here are five fine talents still attempting to break into their country's first-choice XI -- what chance do they have of overhauling more established names?

1. Marco Verratti, Italy

By this stage, we expected Verratti to be Italy's...

Euro qualifying: Vulnerable favorites, dangerous sleepers

Could Eden Hazard and Belgium be in danger of missing the 2016 Euros?
Could Eden Hazard and Belgium be in danger of missing the 2016 Euros?

Aside from the World Cup, the European championship is the most competitive tournament in the world. The tournament features some of the globe's best players, and the upcoming 2016 competition in France will serve as an indicator of which teams are poised to excel at the 2018 World Cup.

The current crop of 53 eligible teams is split into nine groups, with the group winners, runners-up and the best third-placed team earning a tournament berth. The eight remaining third-placed teams face off in a playoff to determine the last four teams to join the host nation in the 24-team field. While this week marks the halfway point in the qualification process for most nations, there are some teams that already stand out for either playing above or below their expected standard.

Here is a look at three Euro 2016 contenders that are showing signs of vulnerability and could be in danger of not qualifying, along with three overachieving teams that could be dangerous sleepers to not only earn a berth to the tournament but make waves at the Euros.


Vulnerable favorites

Belgium | Qualifying record: 1-0-2 (win-loss-draw) | Group rank: 4th

Snapshot: Belgium, which is fourth in Group B, will battle Bosnia-Herzegovina, Wales and Israel for the top spots.

Belgium started strong with a 6-0 opening win over Andorra but subsequent draws against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Wales have raised questions about how the team uses its attacking resources. ...

Arjen Robben to miss several weeks with torn abdominal muscle

Arjen Robben exited Sunday's game in the 24th minute.

Arjen Robben is set to miss several weeks of action. The Bayern Munich winger tore an abdominal muscle in his club's 2-0 defeat at home to Borussia Monchengladbach on Sunday.

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The Netherlands international was withdrawn 24 minutes into Bayern's first home defeat of the season following a foul by Gladbach's Tony Jantschke. The 31-year-old had only returned after a minor back injury suffered in the 7-0 Champions League victory over Shakthar Donetsk.

"Bad news: Arjen #Robben has torn an abdominal muscle...

Wolfsburg's Bas Dost set for debut with Netherlands squad

Bas Dost has yet to play in a game for the Netherlands national team.

In-form Wolfsburg striker Bas Dost was named in the Netherlands squad on Friday to take on Turkey in a European Championship qualifier and Spain in a friendly.

The call-up for Dost, who has 13 goals in the Bundesliga this year, gives the Dutch forward line a distinctly German feel. Also included in Guus Hiddink's squad were Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben and Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

Dost has been in the Netherlands squad before but has yet to make his debut.

"Bas had a difficult first...

Robin van Persie likely to sit out key Manchester United clashes

ESPN FC's Craig Burley questions whether or not Manchester United will be able to stay in the top four.
ESPN FC's Steve Nicol believes Robin van Persie's injury will finally bring consistency to Louis van Gaal's strike partnership.
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal gives an update on Robin van Persie's ankle injury as he looks ahead to their Premier League match against Sunderland.

Netherlands have indicated that Robin van Persie will not be fit for Manchester United's crucial matches against Tottenham and Liverpool by omitting him from their squad to face Turkey and Spain.

Guus Hiddink's side play Turkey in a Euro 2016 qualifier on Mar. 28 and 2010 World Cup winners Spain in a friendly three days later.

Before those games, United face Spurs at Old Trafford on Sunday and visit Anfield to take on Liverpool -- rivals for a top-four finish -- on March 22.

The absence of Netherlands...