Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill was full of praise for his team's stirring fight back in their 1-1 draw with Poland on Sunday, but he admitted their hopes of qualifying for Euro 2016 may now rest on their next qualifier.
O'Neill believes his side now need to beat Scotland in June to keep alive their hopes of automatic qualification for the finals in France next year, but he took huge encouragement from an uplifting second-half display that was given a finishing flourish by Shane Long's...
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.
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. ...
Everton midfielder Darron Gibson is out of Republic of Ireland's Euro 2016 qualifier against Poland on Sunday.
Gibson has been unable to train since joining up with the squad in Malahide because of a groin problem, and was withdrawn on Wednesday afternoon.
A Football Association of Ireland spokesman said: "The Football Association of Ireland today confirmed that Darron Gibson has withdrawn from the Republic of Ireland squad to face Poland on March 29 due a persistent groin injury.