Saturday, 6 February 2016

Six Nations shared between BBC and ITV

SIX NATIONS 2016

MATCHDAY 1

Sat 06-Feb14:25 BBCFRANCE v ITALYStade de France
Sat 06-Feb16:50 BBCSCOTLAND v ENGLANDMurrayfield
Sun 07-Feb15:00 ITVIRELAND v WALESAviva Stadium

MATCHDAY 2

Sat 13-Feb14:25 BBCFRANCE v IRELANDStade de France
Sat 13-Feb16:50 BBCWALES v SCOTLANDMillennium Stadium
Sun 14-Feb14:00 ITVITALY v ENGLANDStadio Olimpico

MATCHDAY 3

Fri 26-Feb20:05 BBCWALES v FRANCEMillennium Stadium
Sat 27-Feb14:25 ITVITALY v SCOTLANDStadio Olimpico
Sat 27-Feb16:50 ITVENGLAND v IRELANDTwickenham

MATCHDAY 4


Sat 12-Mar13:30 ITVIRELAND v ITALYAviva Stadium
Sat 12-Mar16:00 ITVENGLAND v WALESTwickenham
Sun 13-Mar15:00 BBCSCOTLAND v FRANCEMurrayfield

MATCHDAY 5

Sat 19-Mar14:30 BBCWALES v ITALYMillennium Stadium
Sat 19-Mar17:00 ITVIRELAND v SCOTLANDAviva Stadium
Sat 19-Mar20:00 BBCFRANCE v ENGLANDStade de France

BOTH BBC and ITV will broadcast this year's Six Nations Championship in a £300m deal which runs until 2021.

The BBC - which has had exclusive rights since 2003 - brokered the arrangement as part of a cost-saving exercise in which its sport department has been asked to cut £35m from its budget.

At least this way all of the tournament remains on free-to-air television. The BBC will show the home matches of Scotland, Wales and France - while ITV takes charge of England, Ireland and Italy home games.

The way that the fixtures are laid out actually works out well for the BBC this year. It will show two matches on the opening day - including Scotland v England - and two of the three matches on the final matchday, including France v England.

As usual, much of the attention in the build-up has been on England - but perhaps, this year, that is even more so the case.

For, England have a new head coach - the Australian Eddie Jones - as they seek to repair their tattered reputation after a disastrous home World Cup.

Jones, of course, had a totally different World Cup experience with Japan. The Cherry Blossoms caused one of the biggest sporting shocks of all time by beating the two-time winners South Africa in the Pool stages, and England have appointed their new man expecting similar inspiration.

Nevertheless, there has been caution aired ahead of the Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland on the first day - with Jones even declaring the resurgent Scots to be favourites, given their home advantage.

That is still not something with which the bookmakers agree - and it is true that Scotland must turn the tide of recent history to be successful this spring.

Scotland have never won the Six Nations title - they have, though, collected four wooden spoons since Italy were introduced in 2000, and finished bottom last year.

But, after that, they recovered gamely, recording a series of comeback wins in the Pool stages of the World Cup before a heartbreaking and controversial defeat to Australia in the quarter finals.

Indeed, the first Six Nations after a World Cup is often seen in the context of the latter - and this year will be no different.

For Wales, this is good news. Also subject to a heartbreaking late defeat to a southern hemisphere superpower - in their case South Africa - the Welsh nonetheless produced some stirring displays and memorably beat England at Twickenham.

They can be proud of their World Cup efforts - and, certainly, the re-match against England on 12 March, again at Twickenham, should hold no fears.

Meanwhile, Ireland - who have won the last two Six Nations titles, and often in some style - are in a state of flux following their wholly unexpected defeat to Argentina in the World Cup quarters.

Former captain Paul O'Connell has joined the totemic Brian O'Driscoll in retirement and this leaves a lot of pressure on fly-half Jonny Sexton as the clearest link back to one of Ireland's greatest teams.

Indeed, the first match for the Irish - against a more settled Wales team in Dublin - promises to be the most enthralling fixture of this first weekend, even accounting for the Calcutta Cup contest.

Six Nations campaigns cannot be decided in one game - but that tête-à-tête in Dublin may nevertheless go a long way to determining the fate of those two teams this year.

For now, surprisingly, England have been classified as favourites with the money men - despite their awful World Cup and despite the fact that they have finished runners-up for the last four years.

And, while it is a new era for English rugby, it would be no surprise if they extended that record to a fifth year in finishing behind the Welsh.

Scotland will improve but Ireland will still sneak third place ahead of them by winning the match between the two teams in Dublin on the final day.

Finally, the two continentals - France and Italy - will just be there to make up the numbers, a damning indictment on the French, whose World Cup campaign was ultimately little better than that of England.

It would be no surprise, of course, if these predictions are completely wrong - but the fun part is watching and seeing what happens - on two television channels this year.

TEAM-BY-TEAM GUIDE Odds from Ladbrokes
ENGLAND Odds 13/8 fav
Coach Eddie Jones Captain Dylan Hartley
TwickenhamFixtures Scotland (A), Italy (A), Ireland (H), Wales (H), France (A)
IRB Rank: 8Six Nations titles 4 (2000, 2001, 2003, 2011)
FRANCE Odds 6/1Coach Guy Novès Captain Guilhem Guirado
Stade de FranceFixtures Italy (H), Ireland (H), Wales (A), Scotland (A), England (H)
IRB Rank: 7Six Nations titles 5 (2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010)
IRELAND Odds 9/2
Coach Joe Schmidt Captain Rory Best
Aviva StadiumFixtures Wales (H), France (A), England (A), Italy (H), Scotland (H)
IRB Rank: 6Six Nations titles 3 (2009, 2014, 2015)
ITALY Odds 500/1
Coach Jacques Brunel Captain Sergio Parisse
Stadio OlimpicoFixtures France (A), England (H), Scotland (H), Ireland (A), Wales (A)
IRB Rank: 12Six Nations titles None
SCOTLAND Odds 14/1Coach Vern Cotter Captain Greig Laidlaw
MurrayfieldFixtures England (H), Wales (A), Italy (A), France (H), Ireland (A)
IRB Rank: 9Six Nations titles None
WALES Odds 9/4Coach Warren Gatland Captain Sam Warburton
Millennium StadiumFixtures Ireland (A), Scotland (H), France (H), England (A), Italy (H)
IRB Rank: 4Six Nations titles 4 (2005, 2008, 2012, 2013)

RBS SIX NATIONS 2015 TABLE

WDLFA(T)Pts
IRELAND4011195688
ENGLAND401157100188
WALES40114693138
FRANCE20310310194
ITALY1046218282
SCOTLAND0057312860

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Improving England left with lessons still to learn

ENGLAND IN SOUTH AFRICA 2015-16 England won the series 2-1
Man of the series: Ben Stokes (England)

26-30 Dec1ST England 303 & 326 beat South Africa 214 & 174 by 241 runsDurban
2-6 Jan2ND England 629-6d & 159-6 drew with South Africa 627-7dCape Town
14-16 Jan3RD England 323 & 74-3 beat South Africa 313 & 83 by seven wicketsJohannesburg
22-26 Jan4TH South Africa 475 & 248-5d beat England 342 & 101 by 280 runsCenturion

ENGLAND provided a highly disappointing denouement to an otherwise successful series in South Africa after being bowled out for 101 to lose the fourth Test by 280 runs.

Already 2-0 up heading into the final match, Alastair Cook's men showed a distinct lack of ruthlessness or character in going down to such a heavy defeat, the manner of which recalled their awful innings loss at the Oval in August against Australia.

Back then, the Ashes had likewise been won with a game to spare - although, in fairness to this touring squad, there were other more pleasant similarities to the summer success.

For instance, man of the series this time - Ben Stokes - carried on his general good form with bat and ball, and improved his Test average in both disciplines. Meanwhile, Stuart Broad produced another simply magical spell.

The highlight for Stokes, of course, was his 258 in the second Test in Cape Town, in which he hit 11 sixes and 30 fours, and for which he faced just 198 balls.

Statistically, it was the second-fastest double-hundred in Tests, beaten only by New Zealander Nathan Astle (153 balls) against England in Christchurch in 2002.

It was therefore the quickest double century by an England player and the highest score by an England batsman at number six or lower in the order.

Stokes' partnership of 399 with Jonny Bairstow was the second highest for England in all Tests, the highest ever in South Africa, and the highest sixth-wicket stand in Test history.

But, ultimately, the pair's efforts actually counted for little as a high-scoring draw ensued.

South Africa also performed well with the bat on a flat surface as Hashim Amla joined Stokes in reaching a double century and Temba Bavuma became the first black Proteas player to score a Test ton.

Subsequently, England briefly threatened to become the first ever team to score more than 600 runs in a first innings and contrive to lose as they wobbled on 116-6 on the final day. 

Thankfully, though, Bairstow and Moeen Ali steadied the ship before the two skippers - Cook and Amla - shook hands, the latter for the final time as Test captain following his shock mid-series resignation

So, while the second Test will simply go down in the record books as an inevitable draw, Amla's decision and the notable - and, in some cases, historic - achievements of players from both sides means this was no dull affair. 

Still, enough about the stalemate - and now more about how the tourists claimed a first away Test series win anywhere since victory in India in 2012.

Well, the first Test in Durban - where England are unbeaten since 1928 - is not such an easy success to explain. There was no England centurion with the bat in either innings and none of the bowlers produced a fabled five-fer. 

Nevertheless, Stuart Broad took 4-25 in the South African first innings and Steven Finn took 4-42 in the second as Cook's team claimed a comfortable 241-run win on the final day.

Remarkably, it was the first time England had won the opening Test of an away series since their victory over Bangladesh in Chittagong in March 2010. 

And, truly, such occurrences are rare beasts as the time before that was in December 2004 against South Africa in Port Elizabeth.

The key to the other Test win, in the third match in Johannesburg, is rather easier to pinpoint as Broad produced another simply wonderful spell to add to his legendary 8-15 in the Ashes last summer

This time, an even game with only 10 runs between the sides after the first innings, was turned on its head in a few balls by the Notts paceman. 

In fact, Broad took 5-1 in just 31 balls on his way to overall figures of 6-17 as the Proteas were bundled out for a shell-shocked 83. 

England knocked off the runs before the third day was over - and, with the series won, Broad could also celebrate being statistically recognised as the number one bowler in the world

What has happened over the last five days in Centurion does not neatly follow the narrative - and this morning's loss of 7-43 was frankly pathetic, even if 20-year-old Kagiso Rabada was superb in taking match figures of 13-144. 

Then again, the momentum in the Ashes summer similarly swung wildly between the teams - and so England, despite a fine series win, will remain dogged by the tag of inconsistency.

Nowhere perhaps is this clearer than in their catching. Sometimes excellent - particularly the efforts of James Taylor at short-leg - it is still all-too-often the first sign that England do not feel as if it is going to be their day. 

The other major problem remains at the top of the order where Alex Hales has struggled. This was despite him becoming the eighth opening partner to Alastair Cook since he lost his predecessor as captain, Andrew Strauss in 2012.

For the record, the previous seven men were Ali, Adam Lyth, Jonathan Trott, Sam Robson, Michael Carberry, Joe Root and Nick Compton - with the latter two batting at three and four in this series.

Simply put - until England can consistently see off the new ball, then they will remain susceptible to collapse and shoddy, inconsistent results.

And, while that may sound too simplistic, there are clearly no easy solutions. 

Stick with Hales? Promote Compton back up the order? Bring in yet another new man like James Vince? None of these options looks overly appealing. 

At least the two home series against Sri Lanka and India - both notoriously poor travellers - offer a chance to make progress on this issue.

In the meantime, England face the Proteas in five One-Day Internationals and two Twenty20 matches ahead of the Twenty20 World Cup in India in March.

CENTURIES
258 Ben Stokes (England) in the second Test, Cape Town 
201 Hashim Amla (South Africa) in the second Test, Cape Town
150 Jonny Bairstow (England) in the second Test, Cape Town
129* Quinton de Kock (South Africa) in the fourth Test, Centurion
118* Dean Elgar (South Africa) in the first Test, Durban
115 Stephen Cook (South Africa) in the fourth Test, Centurion
110 Joe Root (England) in the third Test, Johannesburg
109 Hashim Amla (South Africa) in the fourth Test, Centurion
102* Temba Bavuma (South Africa) in the second Test, Cape Town

TOP RUN SCORERS
470 Hashim Amla (South Africa)
411 Ben Stokes (England)

386 Joe Root (England)
359 Jonny Bairstow (England)
284 Dean Elgar (South Africa)

248 Temba Bavuma (South Africa)
245 Nick Compton (England)

210 AB de Villiers (South Africa)

BEST BATTING AVERAGES
143.00 Quinton de Kock (South Africa)
71.80 Jonny Bairstow (England)
70.00 Stephen Cook (South Africa)*
67.14 Hashim Amla (South Africa)
58.71 Ben Stokes (England)
55.14 Joe Root (England)
49.60 Temba Bavuma (South Africa)
47.33 Dean Elgar (South Africa)
32.66 Chris Morris (South Africa)
30.62 Nick Compton (England)
30.00 AB de Villiers (South Africa)
29.00 Moeen Ali (England)

FIVE-WICKET HAULS
7-112 Kagiso Rabada (South Africa) in the fourth Test, Centurion 
6-17 Stuart Broad (England) in the third Test, Johannesburg
6-32 Kagiso Rabada (South Africa) in the fourth Test, Centurion 
5-78 Kagiso Rabada (South Africa) in the third Test, Johannesburg
5-153 Dane Piedt (South Africa) in the first Test, Durban

TOP WICKET TAKERS
22 Kagiso Rabada (South Africa)
18 Stuart Broad (England)
15 Morne Morkel (South Africa)
12 Ben Stokes (England)
11 Steven Finn (England)
10 Dane Piedt (South Africa), Moeen Ali (England)

BEST BOWLING AVERAGES
20.00 Dale Steyn (South Africa)*
20.61 Stuart Broad (England)
21.90 Kagiso Rabada (South Africa)
23.00 Stiaan van Zyl (South Africa)
26.09 Steven Finn (England)
28.00 JP Duminy (South Africa)
29.16 Ben Stokes (England)
29.73 Morne Morkel (South Africa)

*played one match only

Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Season 2015/16: Arsenal lead Leicester at the halfway stage

SEASON 2015/16

1 ARSENAL (P19 W12 D3 L4 F33 A18 Pts 39)
Premier League: LWDWWLWWWWWDLDWWWLW
FA Cup: 3R v Sunderland (H) on 9 January at 3pm
League Cup: lost 0-3 v Sheffield Wednesday (A) in fourth round
Europe: UCL Last 16 v Barcelona (H) on 23 February/(A) on 16 March
Manager: Arsene Wenger (since October 1996) Top scorer: Olivier Giroud (15)
As ever, it has been a bit of a bumpy ride at the Emirates - but Arsenal find themselves top heading into the New Year after four wins in their last five league games. The Gunners' customary November wobble threatened once again to derail their title challenge before it had even properly begun - but the goalscoring form of Olivier Giroud and the mountain of assists from Mesut Ozil have both made Arsene Wenger a sanguine man this Christmas. Ozil, especially, has been brilliant in this campaign, and his total of 16 assists at the halfway stage is just four behind the full-season Premier League record already held in Arsenal colours by Thierry Henry in 2002-03. 
Meanwhile, a scramble through the Champions League group after defeats in three of their first four games only brought the reward of Barcelona in February. Instead then, minds may be forced to focus on delivering a first Premier League title in 12 years - and that, of course, would represent the culmination of what had previously seemed to be a never-ending rebuild job.

2 LEICESTER CITY (P19 W11 D6 L2 F37 A25 Pts 39)
Premier League: WWDDWDLWDWWWWDWWWLD
FA Cup: 3R v Tottenham Hotspur (A) on 10 January at 4pm
League Cup: lost 4-5 on pens (after 1-1 aet) v Hull City (A) in fourth round
Manager: Claudio Ranieri (since July 2015) Top scorer: Jamie Vardy (15)
Long-time pace-setters Leicester City are still only kept off the top on goal difference, a phenomenal achievement at the halfway stage by the East Midlands club. Unsurprisingly, most of the headlines have deservedly gone to striker Jamie Vardy after he scored in 11 consecutive Premier League matches to break Ruud van Nistelrooy's record - but the fine contributions elsewhere of playmaker Riyad Mahrez and midfielder N'Golo Kante have not gone unnoticed. Looking ahead, the Foxes have given themselves a hell of a chance at least of a top four finish if they continue to ally their no-fear attitude to their pacy counter-attacking style. But a few more clean-sheets, like that achieved on Tuesday in a 0-0 draw against Manchester City, will be required for Claudio Ranieri's men to realise their dream.

3 MANCHESTER CITY (P19 W11 D3 L5 F37 A20 Pts 36) 
Premier League: WWWWWLLWWDWDLWLWLWD
FA Cup: 3R v Norwich City (A) on 9 January at 3pm
League Cup: SF v Everton (A) on 6 January/(H) on 27 January
Europe: UCL Last 16 v Dinamo Kiev (A) on 24 February/(H) on 15 March
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini (since June 2013) Top scorer: Kevin De Bruyne (10)
Five games into the season, Manchester City were sitting top with a perfect record having not conceded a goal - but, since then, things have not gone to plan at all. While home form - excepting the 4-1 defeat to Liverpool - has remained strong, the Blues have looked massively vulnerable on the road. Away defeats have come against Tottenham Hotspur, Stoke City and Arsenal, while matches at Manchester United, Aston Villa and, most recently, Leicester City have all ended in 0-0 stalemates. Despite the efforts of Kevin De Bruyne to fill in, the lack of goals in these games has not been helped by the long absence of Sergio Aguero through injury with Wilfried Bony not looking like a particularly worthy understudy most of the time.
At least City broke through a glass ceiling in winning their Champions League group for the first time this season. Their reward is an eminently winnable tie against Dynamo Kiev - and with a League Cup semi final against Everton also to come in the New Year, Manuel Pellegrini's men actually remain in the hunt for all four major trophies. It would be a major surprise, though, if they pulled anything like that off as regular speculation over Pellegrini's fate in May will surely lead to continued uncertainty on the pitch. This team, at its best, undoubtedly has the talent to win another Premier League title - but does it have the will?

4 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (P19 W9 D8 L2 F33 A15 Pts 35)
Premier League: LDDDWWWDDWWDWDDLWWW
FA Cup: 3R v Leicester City (H) on 10 January at 4pm
League Cup: lost 1-2 v Arsenal (H) in third round
Europe: UEL Last 32 v Fiorentina (A) on 18 February/(H) on 25 February
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino (since May 2014) Top scorer: Harry Kane (13)
Tottenham Hotspur are the team which, this season, holds the longest sequence for unbeaten Premier League games. Spurs went 14 matches without defeat between an unfortunate opening day loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford and a shock 2-1 home reversal to Newcastle United halfway through last month. Irritatingly for the White Hart Lane faithful, though, only six of the 14 games ended in victory, and that tendency to draw matches - while showing a new-found defensive steel - was effectively depriving Pochettino's men from a place in the top four. Nevertheless, an excellent Christmas period - featuring two away wins at Southampton and Watford, and an easy 3-0 home win over Norwich City - has now put Tottenham in the Champions League spots. In fact, they are a whole four points clear of fifth-placed Crystal Palace and look as if they are only going to get stronger.

5 CRYSTAL PALACE (P19 W9 D4 L6 F23 A16 Pts 31)
Premier League: WLWWLLWWLLDWLWDWWDD
FA Cup: 3R v Southampton (A) on 9 January at 3pm
League Cup: lost 1-5 v Manchester City (A) in fourth round
Manager: Alan Pardew (since January 2015) Top scorer: Yohan Cabaye (5)
Manager Alan Pardew continues to do an impressive job at Crystal Palace and looks set to be rewarded with a new contract at Selhurst Park by chairman Steve Parish. Heading into the New Year with just one defeat since October - although that was a shocker at home to Sunderland - the Eagles can soar into 2016 with an optimistic mindset. Of their five other league defeats this season, one has come at home to West Ham United and the other four have been to each of the sides above them, meaning it would be a surprise if Palace climbed any higher than fifth. Indeed, with a lack of goals up front - midfielder Yohan Cabaye is top scorer - and the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool lying in wait just behind the south Londoners in the table, the continued stability of a place in the top-half should remain the aim. 

6 MANCHESTER UNITED (P19 W8 D6 L5 F22 A16 Pts 30)
Premier League: WWDLWWWLWDDWWDDLLLD
FA Cup: 3R v Sheffield United (H) on 9 January at 5.30pm
League Cup: lost 1-3 on pens (after 0-0 aet) v Middlesbrough (H) in fourth round
Europe: UEL Last 32 v Midtjylland (H) on 18 February/(A) on 25 February. Knocked out of UCL group stage (W2 D2 L2 F7 A7)
Manager: Louis Van Gaal (since July 2014) Top scorer: Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney (7)
First, the good news for Manchester United fans - their team has kept more clean sheets than any other side in the Premier League this season. Now, the bad news - a run of eight games without a win in all competitions is the Red Devils' worst in 25 years. Worse still, it has dropped them well away from a title chase in which they were only previously hanging on by their fingertips. Louis Van Gaal may have achieved his aim of bringing back Champions League football to Old Trafford with a fourth-placed finish last season but a lot more progress was expected in this campaign. 
French signing, 20-year-old Anthony Martial, started brightly but has faded - and, with Wayne Rooney unable to pick up the slack, the team has struggled badly for goals and even, at times, any sort of threat or inspiration. It was quite appropriate that two 0-0 home draws in the Champions League against PSV Eindhoven and the League Cup against Middlesbrough have ultimately cost Van Gaal's men their place in both competitions. And, while the Dutchman hangs on to his position for now, patience with him is growing ever thinner.

7 LIVERPOOL (P19 W8 D6 L5 F22 A22 Pts 30)
Premier League: WWDLLDWDDDWLWWLDLWW
FA Cup: 3R v Exeter City (A) on 8 January at 7.55pm
League Cup: SF v Stoke City (A) on 5 January/(H) on 26 January
Europe: UEL Last 32 v Augsburg (A) on 18 February/(H) on 25 February
Manager: Jurgen Klopp (since October 2015) Top scorer: Christian Benteke (6)
Such was the pressure he was under at the start of the season, the reign of Brendan Rodgers was never going to last more than a few more weeks. As it happens, the final game for the Northern Irishman was a 1-1 draw in the 225th Merseyside derby against Everton in early October - at the time, a fifth occurrence in six matches of the Reds taking a 1–0 lead, only for the contest to end in a stalemate. The giveaways were becoming just far too frequent. 
Not that the short reign so far of new boss Jurgen Klopp has been entirely without its hiccups - defeats away at Newcastle United and Watford sandwiched a bizarrely celebrated 2-2 home draw with West Bromwich Albion. And, while two narrow 1-0 wins over Leicester City and Sunderland have got Liverpool turned back in the right direction for now, the inconsistency of an unbalanced squad confirms the problems at Anfield always ran deeper than Rodgers solely.

8 WEST HAM UNITED (P19 W7 D8 L4 F28 A23 Pts 29)
Premier League: WLLWWWDDWWLDLDDDDDW
FA Cup: 3R v Wolverhampton Wanderers (H) on 9 January at 3pm
League Cup: lost 1-2 v Leicester City (A) in third round
Europe: lost 3-4 on agg v Astra Giurgiu (2-2h, 1-2a) in third qualifying round
Manager: Slaven Bilic (since June 2015) Top scorer: Dimitri Payet (5)
Stunning away wins against Arsenal (2-0), Liverpool (3-0), Manchester City (2-1) and Crystal Palace (3-1) as well as a home win over struggling Chelsea - all by the end of October - gave rise to the hope that this was going to be a rather special season for West Ham United. But, since then, the Hammers have treaded water - and their comeback win against Southampton on Monday was their first league victory in nine games. Not that Slaven Bilic's men have been plummeting down the table - six of those previous eight matches ended level including a sequence of five successive draws featuring three consecutive 0-0s. Yes, the loss of the excellent Dimitri Payet has been keenly felt but the French playmaker is back for the visit of Liverpool to the Boleyn Ground today, as the east Londoners begin their final five months in that ground.

9 WATFORD (P19 W8 D5 L6 F24 A20 Pts 29)
Premier League: DDDLWWLDLWWLLWWWWDL
FA Cup: 3R v Newcastle United (H) on 9 January at 3pm
League Cup: lost 0-1 v Preston North End (A) in second round
Manager: Quique Sanchez Flores (since June 2015) Top scorer: Odion Ighalo (14)
Watford dipped their toe in the water as they began life back in the Premier League with three draws - but, thanks to the Troy Deeney-Odion Ighalo strike partnership, the Hornets have now won eight of their last 15 games and look very comfortable indeed at this level. Ighalo, in particular, has enjoyed an annus mirabilis, scoring 30 goals in the calendar year of 2015 - more than any other player in England's top four divisions. It meant promotion in May, of course - and now means Quique Flores' vintage already have more points from the first half of the campaign than Watford's two previous Premier League teams finished with in 2000 and 2007. Will there be an unlikely push for a European spot in the second half?

10 STOKE CITY (P19 W8 D5 L6 F20 A19 Pts 29)
Premier League: LDDLLDWWWLDWWLWDLWW
FA Cup: 3R v Doncaster Rovers (A) on 9 January at 3pm
League Cup: SF v Liverpool (H) on 5 January/(A) on 26 January
Manager: Mark Hughes (since May 2013) Top scorer: Marko Arnautovic (7)
Despite a slow start, solidly midtable Stoke City will be pleased with their campaign so far having reached a cup semi final and collected 29 points. Winless in their first six league games, the Potters seemed to revert to a back to basics approach in a series of one-goal victories in a seven week period over Bournemouth, Aston Villa, Swansea City, Chelsea, and Southampton. However, in more recent wins at home to both Manchester clubs and away to Everton, Mark Hughes' men have played far more expansively, even earning the nickname Stokelona for the presence of a clutch of players who once plied their trade at the Camp Nou. Star of the show at the Britannia, though, has been former Twente and Werder Bremen forward Marko Arnautovic - he already has his own highest Premier League return of seven goals this season.

11 EVERTON (P19 W6 D8 L5 F35 A28 Pts 26)
Premier League: DWLDWDWDLLWDWDDDLWL
FA Cup: 3R v Dagenham & Redbridge (H) on 9 January at 3pm
League Cup: SF v Manchester City (H) on 6 January/(A) on 27 January
Manager: Roberto Martinez (since July 2013) Top scorer: Romelu Lukaku (18)
On the face of it, Everton are a bit of an enigma this season - they are the division's third-top scorers with more goals than leaders Arsenal - and yet they remain locked in midtable with their only league victories since September coming against the current bottom three. Looking more closely, though, it is not that much of a mystery - for, while hot-shot Romelu Lukaku has been adeptly assisted by Gerard Deulofeu and Ross Barkley in midfield, the backline has creaked over and over again. The Toffees have, in fact, conceded the most home goals in the league this season - and, more than two years into the job, the defence is a deficiency which Roberto Martinez has never looked like dealing with.

12 SOUTHAMPTON (P19 W6 D6 L7 F26 A23 Pts 24)
Premier League: DLDWDLWWDDWWLLDLLWL
FA Cup: 3R v Crystal Palace (H) on 9 January at 3pm
League Cup: lost 1-6 v Liverpool (H) in QF
Europe: lost 1-2 on agg v Midtjylland (1-1h, 0-1a) in qualifying playoff round
Manager: Ronald Koeman (since June 2014) Top scorer: Graziano Pelle (7)
Ronald Koeman's second season at Southampton always looked like being tougher than his first after yet more high profile summer departures and, considering all of their efforts last year, a disappointingly early exit from Europe. There was also a slow start in the league with just one win in the first six games - however, this was alleviated by a run of 14 points out of 18 in which Graziano Pelle once again found his best form. Another poor run in the run-up to Christmas has followed - but a 4-0 thrashing of leaders Arsenal on Boxing Day suggests that, while this campaign is nowhere near as spectacular as the last overall, the Saints are simply far too good to be involved in the worst of the relegation scrap.  

13 WEST BROMWICH ALBION (P19 W6 D5 L8 F18 A24 Pts 23)
Premier League: LDLWDWLLWWLLWDDDLLW
FA Cup: 3R v Bristol City (H) on 9 January at 3pm
League Cup: lost 0-3 v Norwich City (A) in third round
Manager: Tony Pulis (since January 2015) Top scorer: Saido Berahino, James Morrison, Salomon Rondon (3)
Darren Fletcher's late header gave West Bromwich Albion a 1-0 win at the Hawthorns over Newcastle United on Monday, their sixth league success of the season and their fifth by that same scoreline, a divisional record shared equally with Liverpool. The victory spoke volumes about the Baggies under Tony Pulis who only arrived in January - but who has already shaped this team to be his. Yes, there is not always room in the first XI for flair players like Saido Berahino and Salomon Rondon and, consequently, it is not always too pretty to watch. So far, though, it has been effective - and, even though the Midlanders are still only six points above the bottom three, Pulis now looks well set to extend his record of having never been relegated as a manager to 24 years. 

14 CHELSEA (P19 W5 D5 L9 F23 A29 Pts 20)
Premier League: DLWLLWDLWLLLWDLLWDD
FA Cup: 3R v Scunthorpe United (H) on 10 January at 2pm
League Cup: lost 4-5 on pens (after 1-1 aet) v Stoke City (A) in fourth round
Europe: UCL Last 16 v Paris Saint-Germain (A) on 16 February/(H) on 9 March
Interim manager: Guus Hiddink (since December 2015) Top scorer: Willian (7)
Rather than just a few lines on a blog, a whole book could probably be written about how Jose Mourinho's seemingly imperious champions of last season have fallen apart in this campaign. From the moment Mourinho wrongly complained about his medical staff entering the field to treat stricken Eden Hazard in the season opener against Swansea City, hardly anything has gone right. Mourinho clearly fell out with some of his senior players - most notably the likes of Diego Costa and Hazard - and he always looked on uncertain ground once he suggested he had been betrayed by members of squad. 
A ninth league defeat of the season to then-leaders Leicester City just over two weeks ago effectively cut off any slim hopes of a top four place - and it was ultimately no surprise to see owner Roman Abramovich sack the Portuguese coach and bring in Guus Hiddink for a second brief spell. Even accounting for the inconsistency of the teams above them, though, it seems unlikely the Blues will be anything other than midtable this time around.

15 NORWICH CITY (P19 W5 D5 L9 F22 A32 Pts 20)
Premier League: LWDLWDDLLLLWLDLDWLW
FA Cup: 3R v Manchester City (H) on 9 January at 3pm
League Cup: lost 3-4 on pens (after 1-1 aet) v Everton (A) in fourth round
Manager: Alex Neil (since January 2015) Top scorer: Nathan Redmond (4)
Norwich City are gradually getting to grips with life in the top flight, and their 2-0 win over Aston Villa on Monday was enough to keep the Canaries unbeaten at Carrow Road since October. Importantly, it also took them three points clear of the relegation zone. Actually, Alex Neil's men have so far stayed out of bottom three all season - but, prior to a momentous win at Old Trafford and that win against doomed Villa, they had only tasted victory once in 11 previous league games. Still yet to enjoy consecutive league victories all season, Neil knows there is much work to be done to make sure Norwich avoid a repeat of their 2014 relegation. 

16 AFC BOURNEMOUTH (P19 W5 D5 L9 F22 A34 Pts 20) 
Premier League: LLWDLWLDLLLLDDWWWDL
FA Cup: 3R v Birmingham City (A) on 9 January at 3pm
League Cup: lost 0-1 v Liverpool (A) in fourth round
Manager: Eddie Howe (since October 2012) Top scorer: Junior Stanislas, Callum Wilson (5)
Three successive wins in December - against Chelsea, Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion - have helped Bournemouth recover their position outside of the bottom three having briefly dropped into the relegation zone on the back of just three points from the previous 24. That disappointing streak came amid in an injury crisis which seemed to crush the Cherries' confidence after what had been reasonable start. But, now having regained their self-belief, Eddie Howe's men can approach the New Year with a cautious optimism that the Premier League big boys might just be getting welcomed back down to Dean Court next season too.

17 SWANSEA CITY (P19 W4 D7 L8 F16 A24 Pts 19)
Premier League: DWDWLDLDLWLLDLLLDWD
FA Cup: 3R v Oxford United (A) on 10 January at midday
League Cup: lost 0-1 v Hull City (A) in third round
Caretaker manager: Alan Curtis (since December 2015) Top scorer: Andre Ayew (6)
With no end yet in sight in the search for a new permanent manager, Swansea City are the side providing the bottom three with the greatest hope of an escape from their predicament. True, results under Garry Monk had deteriorated to such an extent that his departure ended up being no great surprise - and it is equally true that caretaker boss Alan Curtis has subsequently overseen a modest improvement over the Christmas period. It remains the case, though, that the Swans are still not scoring enough goals to drag themselves properly away from the dogfight. And so, the lack of a stable presence in the dugout needs to be sorted sharpish to allow a freshening up of the squad in the January sales, most desperately up front.

18 NEWCASTLE UNITED (P19 W4 D5 L10 F19 A34 Pts 17)
Premier League: DLDLLLDLWLDWLLWWDLL
FA Cup: 3R v Watford (A) on 9 January at 3pm
League Cup: lost 0-2 v Sheffield Wednesday (H) in third round
Manager: Steve McClaren (since June 2015) Top scorer: Georginio Wijnaldum (7)
Another nightmare season on Tyneside sees Newcastle United occupying a bottom three place at the halfway stage for the first time since 1988, a campaign which ended in relegation. Slow-starters again this time, the Magpies finally got off the mark at the ninth attempt - though did it in style as Gini Wijnaldum hit four in a 6-2 thrashing of Norwich City. McClaren's men, however, were brought back down to earth on the following weekend after a sixth consecutive derby defeat to Sunderland. And, since then, Newcastle have, as usual, delivered both the sublime - with wins against Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur - and the ridiculous in heavy defeats to Leicester City and Crystal Palace. Ultimately, though, it is the collection of just one point from nine available at Christmas which has kept the black-and-whites deep in trouble as a lack of goals, an unbalanced midfield, and a slow defence all take their toll.
 
19 SUNDERLAND (P18 W3 D3 L12 F19 A37 Pts 12)
Premier League: LLDDLLLDLWLLWWLLLLL
FA Cup: 3R v Arsenal (A) on 9 January at 3pm
League Cup: lost 1-4 v Manchester City (H) in third round
Manager: Sam Allardyce (since October 2015) Top scorer: Jermain Defoe (7)
Except for their customary derby win over neighbours Newcastle United - and one solitary other good week in November against Crystal Palace and Stoke City - there has been little cheer again this season so far in Sunderland. The Wearsiders find themselves rooted in a fourth successive relegation fight and heading into 2016 on the back of five consecutive defeats with the brief bounce from the appointment of Sam Allardyce having already rather faded. True, the fixtures over the festive period have been hellish - and Aston Villa at home looks as if it might just be a New Year's treat - but, in lying more than two wins adrift of safety, the Black Cats' continued top-flight survival is once again under massive threat.

20 ASTON VILLA (P19 W1 D5 L13 F15 A34 Pts 8)
Premier League: WLLDLLLLLLLDLLDLDDL
FA Cup: 3R v Wycombe Wanderers (A) on 9 January at 12.45pm
League Cup: lost 1-2 v Southampton (A) in fourth round
Manager: Remi Garde (since November 2015) Top scorer: Scott Sinclair (6)
For desperate Aston Villa, the warning signs were there. Tim Sherwood may have helped the second city club stave off the drop last season - but, having replaced Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph with a raft of unproven players in the summer, another struggle always looked likely. It was surely never meant to be as bad as this, though - Villa head into the New Year still in a single figures, and indeed still three points off the lowest points record held by Derby County. New manager Remi Garde may have seen his side graft out a few draws recently but pride is pretty much all that is left to play for.
  • All statistics correct at publishing time. Top scorer stats refer to all competitions.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Index 2015

PREVIOUS INDEXES 2014 2013 2012 2011

POLITICS AND NEWS
General Election Full results
18.03 Osborne serves up pre-election Budget
07.05 Tangled up in news
08.05 Tories take control as Nationalists sweep Scotland
15.06 Preserving the Magna Carta myth
Other events
26.01 The boobs are back - but for how much longer? 
04.03 First Pegida march pisses off peacefully 
12.09 Labour takes a jump to the left with Corbyn landslide 
World War I
25.04 And the band played Waltzing Matilda
08.11 Wearing the poppy

FOOTBALL
Season 2014/15
02.01 FA Cup Third Round: Gateshead end a 60-year wait
30.04 Chelsea close in on title
09.06 Chelsea lead from start to finish 
Season 2015/16
08.08 Preview: Arsenal close in on Chelsea crown 
24.10 Can Newcastle United banish their derby woes?
International football
17.01 Yet another African Cup of Nations
30.05 Another Blatter coronation
13.06 Copa America preview: First title chance for Chile
05.07 Copa America: Champions Chile bury past ghosts
25.07 FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying draws Battle of Britain
12.12 Euro 2016 qualifiers: En route
13.12 Euro 2016 finals draw

CRICKET
World Cup Full results
13.02 Holders India up against it
13.02 Hosts on top Down Under
23.02 England avoid slipping on Scotland banana skin
09.03 Shambolic England dumped out by Bangladesh
17.03 Pakistan end Ireland run
26.03 Co-hosts outlast all-comers
29.03 Australia strike Cricket World Cup gold again
The Ashes
07.07 Preview: Play without fear
12.07 Root key to resurgent England
19.07 Australia demolish abject England
31.07 England demolish abject Aussies
11.08 Broad leads the way as England take back the Ashes
24.08 Consolation for Australia, celebrations for England

RUGBY UNION
World Cup Full results
18.09 Preview: World in Union
20.10 Grim up north, glorious down south
31.10 McCaw and Carter ensure stunning All Blacks make history
Six Nations
06.02 Preview: Injury-hit England eager to ditch "nearly men" tag 
22.03 Ireland eclipse title rivals on epic final day

OTHER SPORT
Cycling
26.07 Tour de France: Froome defeats them all
Formula 1
14.03 Preview: Advantage Hamilton in dominant Mercedes 
Horse racing
11.04 Aspell goes back-to-back on McCoy's Grand National farewell
Snooker
18.04 Selby takes on Crucible Curse 
03.05 Battle-scarred Bingham gets run of the ball at last 
Tennis
27.11 National service for Murray in Davis Cup showdown

MISCELLANEOUS
30.01 11* prime reasons to see the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
23.05 Eurovision 2015: Swing and a miss
10.11 Things haven't gone to plan so far
24.12 Moon lights the way for Santa tonight
31.12 Index 2015

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Moon lights the way for Santa tonight

The first full moon on Christmas Eve since 1977
The next such event is not until 2034

MERRY
CHRISTMAS
from The Intrepid Reporter 

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Euro 2016 finals draw


GROUP A GROUP BGROUP CGROUP DGROUP EGROUP F
FRANCEENGLANDGERMANYSPAINBELGIUMPORTUGAL
ALBANIARUSSIAUKRAINECZECH REPITALYICELAND
ROMANIAWALESPOLANDTURKEYIRELANDAUSTRIA
SWITZERLANDSLOVAKIANOR IRELANDCROATIASWEDENHUNGARY


GROUP A
Venue
Fri 10-Jun20:00 ITVFRANCE v ROMANIASaint-Denis
Sat 11-Jun14:00 BBCALBANIA v SWITZERLANDLens
Wed 15-Jun17:00 ITVROMANIA v SWITZERLANDParis
Wed 15-Jun20:00 ITVFRANCE v ALBANIAMarseille
Sun 19-Jun20:00 BBCROMANIA v ALBANIALyon
Sun 19-Jun20:00 BBCSWITZERLAND v FRANCELille

GROUP B
Venue
Sat 11-Jun17:00 BBCWALES v SLOVAKIABordeaux
Sat 11-Jun20:00 ITVENGLAND v RUSSIAMarseille
Wed 15-Jun14:00 BBCRUSSIA v SLOVAKIALille
Thu 16-Jun14:00 BBCENGLAND v WALESLens
Mon 20-Jun20:00 ITVRUSSIA v WALESToulouse
Mon 20-Jun20:00 ITVSLOVAKIA v ENGLANDSaint-Étienne

GROUP C
Venue
Sun 12-Jun17:00 BBCPOLAND v NORTHERN IRELANDNice
Sun 12-Jun20:00 BBCGERMANY v UKRAINELille
Thu 16-Jun17:00 ITVUKRAINE v NORTHERN IRELANDLyon
Thu 16-Jun20:00 ITVGERMANY v POLANDSaint-Denis
Tue 21-Jun17:00 BBC NORTHERN IRELAND v GERMANYParis
Tue 21-Jun17:00 BBCUKRAINE v POLANDMarseille

GROUP D
Venue
Sun 12-Jun14:00 ITVTURKEY v CROATIAParis
Mon 13-Jun14:00 ITVSPAIN v CZECH REPUBLICToulouse
Fri 17-Jun17:00 BBCCZECH REPUBLIC v CROATIASaint-Étienne
Fri 17-Jun20:00 ITVSPAIN v TURKEYNice
Tue 21-Jun20:00 ITVCROATIA v SPAINBordeaux
Tue 21-Jun20:00 ITVCZECH REPUBLIC v TURKEYLens

GROUP E
Venue
Mon 13-Jun17:00 BBCIRELAND v SWEDENSaint-Denis
Mon 13-Jun20:00 BBCBELGIUM v ITALYLyon
Fri 17-Jun14:00 ITVITALY v SWEDENToulouse
Sat 18-Jun14:00 ITVBELGIUM v IRELANDBordeaux
Wed 22-Jun20:00 ITVITALY v IRELANDLille
Wed 22-Jun20:00 ITVSWEDEN v BELGIUMNice

GROUP F
Venue
Tue 14-Jun17:00 ITVAUSTRIA v HUNGARYBordeaux
Tue 14-Jun20:00 BBCPORTUGAL v ICELANDSaint-Étienne
Sat 18-Jun17:00 BBCICELAND v HUNGARYMarseille
Sat 18-Jun20:00 BBCPORTUGAL v AUSTRIAParis
Wed 22-Jun17:00 BBCHUNGARY v PORTUGALLyon
Wed 22-Jun17:00 BBCICELAND v AUSTRIASaint-Denis

WHICH BEST THIRD PLACE TEAM?
The specific match-ups involving the third-placed teams depend on which four third-placed teams qualify for the round of 16. Only the winners of Groups A-D will play a third-placed team.
Third-place teamsWinner AWinner BWinner CWinner D
ABCD3C3D3A3B
ABCE3C3A3B3E
ABCF3C3A3B3F
ABDE3D3A3B3E
ABDF3D3A3B3F
ABEF3E3A3B3F
ACDE3C3D3A3E
ACDF3C3D3A3F
ACEF3C3A3F3E
ADEF3D3A3F3E
BCDE3C3D3B3E
BCDF3C3D3B3F
BCEF3E3C3B3F
BDEF3E3D3B3F
CDEF3C3D3F3E

LAST 16
Venue
(37) Sat 25-Jun14:00Runner-up A v Runner-up CSaint-Étienne
(38) Sat 25-Jun17:00Winner B v Third place ACDParis
(39) Sat 25-Jun20:00Winner D v Third place BEFLens
(40) Sun 26-Jun14:00Winner A v Third place CDELyon
(41) Sun 26-Jun17:00Winner C v Third place ABFLille
(42) Sun 26-Jun20:00Winner F v Runner-up EToulouse
(43) Mon 27-Jun17:00Winner E v Runner-up DSaint-Denis
(44) Mon 27-Jun20:00Runner-up B v Runner-up FNice

QUARTER FINALS
Venue
(45) Thu 30-Jun20:00Winner match 37 v Winner match 39Marseille
(46) Fri 01-Jul20:00Winner match 38 v Winner match 42Lille
(47) Sat 02-Jul20:00Winner match 41 v Winner match 43Bordeaux
(48) Sun 03-Jul20:00Winner match 40 v Winner match 44Saint-Denis

SEMI FINALS
Venue
Wed 06-Jul20:00Winner match 45 v Winner match 46Lyon
Thu 07-Jul20:00Winner match 47 v Winner match 48Marseille

FINAL
Sun 10-Jul 20:00Finalist 1 v Finalist 2Saint-Denis

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Euro 2016 qualifiers: En route


THE FINALS draw for UEFA Euro 2016 will take place at the Palais des congrès de Paris from 5.15pm this evening (live on BBC2).

France are hosting the tournament for a third time, having done so previously when the tournament was introduced in 1960, and also in 1984 - when they won the first of two Euro titles.

Joining Les Bleus in the top group of seeds are World Cup holders Germany, European Championship holders Spain, as well as Portugal, England, and FIFA world number one Belgium.

Of course, this European Championship is the first to feature 24 teams, a move which was criticised on this blog for diluting the competition.

But, while that still may yet remain the case in the finals themselves, it actually ended up refreshing the qualification programme.

Grasping the opporunity that had been presented to them, the likes of Austria, who won nine games out of 10, and unbeaten Romania played their best football in years.

There was also still room for a massive upset as Euro 1988 winners the Netherlands failed to make the top three in Group A.

By contrast, Slovakia, Iceland, Albania, Wales and Northern Ireland will all make their Euro finals debuts.

Indeed, it did not go unnoticed that this qualifying campaign featured a phenomenal effort from three of the four Home Nations teams - only Scotland missed out altogether.

Wayne Rooney broke Sir Bobby Charlton's long-standing national goalscoring record as England finished with the only 100% record.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland and Wales ended their 30-year and 58-year waits for a major finals appearance respectively.

The next step is waiting to find out who will play who in the finals in the chosen 10 stadiums in the cities of Bordeaux, Lens, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Paris, Saint-Denis, Saint-Étienne, and Toulouse.

The finals will take place between 10 June and 10 July, featuring six groups of four teams, one from each seeding pot.

Full seeding pots, based on the UEFA national rankings, are shown below:

POT A

FRANCE
FIFA ranking 25
UEFA ranking 8
Head coach Didier Deschamps (since July 2012)
Captain Hugo Lloris
Contested friendlies Against teams in Group I (W7 D2 L1 F18 A6 Pts 23)
07-Sep-14 v Serbia (A) D1-1
11-Oct-14 v Portugal (H) W2-1
14-Oct-14 v Armenia (A) W3-0
14-Nov-14 v Albania (H) D1-1
29-Mar-15 v Denmark (H) W2-0
13-Jun-15 v Albania (A) L0-1
04-Sep-15 v Portugal (A) W1-0
07-Sep-15 v Serbia (H) W2-1
08-Oct-15 v Armenia (H) W4-0
11-Oct-15 v Denmark (A) W2-1
Top scorers Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann (3)
Best performance Winners 1984, 2000

GERMANY
FIFA ranking 4
UEFA ranking 1
Head coach Joachim Löw (since July 2006)
Captain Bastian Schweinsteiger
Qualifying results Winners of Group D (W7 D1 L2 F24 A9 Pts 22)
07-Sep-14 v Scotland (H) W2-1
11-Oct-14 v Poland (A) L0-2
14-Oct-14 v Ireland (H) D1-1
14-Nov-14 v Gibraltar (H) W4-0
29-Mar-15 v Georgia (A) W2-0
13-Jun-15 v Gibraltar (A) W7-0
04-Sep-15 v Poland (H) W3-1
07-Sep-15 v Scotland (A) W3-2
08-Oct-15 v Ireland (A) L0-1
11-Oct-15 v Georgia (H) W2-1
Top scorer Thomas Müller (9)
Best performance Winners 1972, 1980, 1996

SPAIN
FIFA ranking 3
UEFA ranking 2
Head coach Vicente del Bosque (since July 2008)
Captain Iker Casillas
Qualifying results Winners of Group C (W9 D0 L1 F23 A3 Pts 27)
08-Sep-14 v FYR Macedonia (H) W5-1
09-Oct-14 v Slovakia (A) L1-2
12-Oct-14 v Luxembourg (A) W4-0
15-Nov-14 v Belarus (H) W3-0
27-Mar-15 v Ukraine (H) W1-0
14-Jun-15 v Belarus (A) W1-0
05-Sep-15 v Slovakia (H) W2-0
08-Sep-15 v FYR Macedonia (A) W1-0
09-Oct-15 v Luxembourg (H) W4-0
12-Oct-15 v Ukraine (A) W1-0
Top scorer Paco Alcácer (5)
Best performance Winners 1964, 2008, 2012

ENGLAND
FIFA ranking 9
UEFA ranking 3
Head coach Roy Hodgson (since May 2012)
Captain Wayne Rooney
Qualifying results Winners of Group E (W10 D0 L0 F31 A3 Pts 30)
08-Sep-14 v Switzerland (A) W2-0
09-Oct-14 v San Marino (H) W5-0
12-Oct-14 v Estonia (A) W1-0
15-Nov-14 v Slovenia (H) W3-1
27-Mar-15 v Lithuania (H) W4-0
14-Jun-15 v Slovenia (A) W3-2
05-Sep-15 v San Marino (A) W6-0
08-Sep-15 v Switzerland (H) W2-0
09-Oct-15 v Estonia (H) W2-0
12-Oct-15 v Lithuania (A) W3-0
Top scorer Wayne Rooney (7)
Best performance Semi finals 1968, 1996

PORTUGAL
FIFA ranking 7
UEFA ranking 4
Head coach Fernando Santos (since September 2014)
Captain Cristiano Ronaldo
Qualifying results Winners of Group I (W7 D0 L1 F11 A5 Pts 21)
07-Sep-14 v Albania (H) L0-1
14-Oct-14 v Denmark (A) W1-0
14-Nov-14 v Armenia (H) W1-0
29-Mar-15 v Serbia (H) W2-1
13-Jun-15 v Armenia (A) W3-2
07-Sep-15 v Albania (A) W1-0
08-Oct-15 v Denmark (H) W1-0
11-Oct-15 v Serbia (A) W2-1
Top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo (5)
Best performance Runners-up 2004

BELGIUM
FIFA ranking 1
UEFA ranking 5
Head coach Marc Wilmots (since May 2012)
Captain Vincent Kompany
Qualifying results Winners of Group B (W7 D2 L1 F24 A5 Pts 23)
10-Oct-14 v Andorra (H) W6-0
13-Oct-14 v Bosnia-Herzegovina (A) D1-1
16-Nov-14 v Wales (H) D0-0
28-Mar-15 v Cyprus (H) W5-0
31-Mar-15 v Israel (A) W1-0
12-Jun-15 v Wales (A) L0-1
03-Sep-15 v Bosnia-Herzegovina (H) W3-1
06-Sep-15 v Cyprus (A) W1-0
10-Oct-15 v Andorra (A) W4-1
13-Oct-15 v Israel (H) W3-1
Top scorers Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard (5)
Best performance Runners-up 1980

POT B

ITALY
FIFA ranking 15
UEFA ranking 6
Head coach Antonio Conte (since August 2014)
Captain Gianluigi Buffon
Qualifying results Winners of Group H (W7 D3 L0 F16 A7 Pts 24)
09-Sep-14 v Norway (A) W2-0
10-Oct-14 v Azerbaijan (H) W2-1
13-Oct-14 v Malta (A) W1-0
16-Nov-14 v Croatia (H) D1-1
28-Mar-15 v Bulgaria (A) D2-2
12-Jun-15 v Croatia (A) D1-1
03-Sep-15 v Malta (H) W1-0
06-Sep-15 v Bulgaria (H) W1-0
10-Oct-15 v Azerbaijan (A) W3-1
13-Oct-15 v Norway (H) W2-1
Top scorer Graziano Pellè (3)
Best performance Winners 1968

RUSSIA
FIFA ranking 24
UEFA ranking 9
Head coach Leonid Slutsky (since August 2015)
Captain Roman Shirokov
Qualifying results Runners-up of Group G (W6 D2 L2 F21 A5 Pts 20)
08-Sep-14 v Liechtenstein (H) W4-0
09-Oct-14 v Sweden (A) D1-1
12-Oct-14 v Moldova (H) D1-1
15-Nov-14 v Austria (A) L0-1
27-Mar-15 v Montenegro (A) W3-0 (awarded)
14-Jun-15 v Austria (H) L0-1
05-Sep-15 v Sweden (H) W1-0
08-Sep-15 v Liechtenstein (A) W7-0
09-Oct-15 v Moldova (A) W2-1
12-Oct-15 v Montenegro (H) W2-0
Top scorer Artyom Dzyuba (8)
Best performance Winners 1960

SWITZERLAND
FIFA ranking 12
UEFA ranking 10
Head coach Vladimir Petković (since July 2014)
Captain Gökhan Inler
Qualifying results Runners-up of Group E (W7 D0 L3 F24 A8 Pts 21)
08-Sep-14 v England (H) L0-2
09-Oct-14 v Slovenia (A) L0-1
14-Oct-14 v San Marino (A) W4-0
15-Nov-14 v Lithuania (H) W4-0
27-Mar-15 v Estonia (H) W3-0
14-Jun-15 v Lithuania (A) W2-1
05-Sep-15 v Slovenia (H) W3-2
08-Sep-15 v England (A) L0-2
09-Oct-15 v San Marino (H) W7-0
12-Oct-15 v Estonia (A) W1-0
Top scorer Xherdan Shaqiri (4)
Best performance Group stage 1996, 2004, 2008

AUSTRIA
FIFA ranking 10
UEFA ranking 11
Head coach Marcel Koller (since November 2011)
Captain Christian Fuchs
Qualifying results Winners of Group G (W9 D1 L0 F22 A5 Pts 28)
08-Sep-14 v Sweden (H) D1-1
09-Oct-14 v Moldova (A) W2-1
12-Oct-14 v Montenegro (H) W1-0
15-Nov-14 v Russia (H) W1-0
27-Mar-15 v Liechtenstein (A) W5-0
14-Jun-15 v Russia (A) W1-0
05-Sep-15 v Moldova (H) W1-0
08-Sep-15 v Sweden (A) W4-1
09-Oct-15 v Montenegro (A) W3-2
12-Oct-15 v Liechtenstein (H) W3-0
Top scorer Marc Janko (7)
Best performance Group stage 2008

CROATIA
FIFA ranking 18
UEFA ranking 12
Head coach Ante Čačić (since September 2015)
Captain Darijo Srna
Qualifying results Runners-up of Group H (W6 D3 L1 F20 A5 Pts 20*)
09-Sep-14 v Malta (H) W2-0
10-Oct-14 v Bulgaria (A) W1-0
13-Oct-14 v Azerbaijan (H) W6-0
16-Nov-14 v Italy (A) D1-1
28-Mar-15 v Norway (H) W5-1
12-Jun-15 v Italy (H) D1-1
03-Sep-15 v Azerbaijan (A) D0-0
06-Sep-15 v Norway (A) L0-2
10-Oct-15 v Bulgaria (H) W3-0
13-Oct-15 v Malta (A) W1-0
*deducted one point and fined €100,000 for racist behaviour in the crowd against Italy (H)
Top scorer Ivan Perišić (6)
Best performance Quarter finals 1996, 2008

UKRAINE
FIFA ranking 29
UEFA ranking 14
Head coach Mykhaylo Fomenko (since December 2012)
Captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk
Qualifying results Third place in Group C (W6 D1 L3 F14 A4 Pts 19)
08-Sep-14 v Slovakia (H) L0-1
09-Oct-14 v Belarus (A) W2-0
12-Oct-14 v FYR Macedonia (H) W1-0
15-Nov-14 v Luxembourg (A) W3-0
27-Mar-15 v Spain (A) L0-1
14-Jun-15 v Luxembourg (H) W3-0
05-Sep-15 v Belarus (H) W3-1
08-Sep-15 v Slovakia (A) D0-0
09-Oct-15 v FYR Macedonia (A) W2-0
12-Oct-15 v Spain (H) L0-1
Playoffs Won 3-1 on aggregate
14-Nov-15 v Slovenia (H) W2-0
17-Nov-15 v Slovenia (A) D1-1
Top scorer Andriy Yarmolenko (6)
Best performance Group stage 2012

POT C

CZECH REPUBLIC
FIFA ranking 26
UEFA ranking 15
Head coach Pavel Vrba (since January 2014)
Captain Petr Čech
Qualifying results Winners of Group A (W7 D1 L2 F19 A14 Pts 22)
09-Sep-14 v Netherlands (H) W2-1
10-Oct-14 v Turkey (A) W2-1
13-Oct-14 v Kazakhstan (A) W4-2
16-Nov-14 v Iceland (H) W2-1
28-Mar-15 v Latvia (H) D1-1
12-Jun-15 v Iceland (A) L1-2
03-Sep-15 v Kazakhstan (H) W2-1
06-Sep-15 v Latvia (A) W2-1
10-Oct-15 v Turkey (H) L0-2
13-Oct-15 v Netherlands (A) W3-2
Top scorer Bořek Dočkal (4)
Best performance Winners 1976

SWEDEN
FIFA ranking 35
UEFA ranking 16
Head coach Erik Hamrén (since November 2009)
Captain Zlatan Ibrahimović
Qualifying results Third place in Group G (W5 D3 L2 F15 A9 Pts 18)
08-Sep-14 v Austria (A) D1-1
09-Oct-14 v Russia (A) D1-1
12-Oct-14 v Liechtenstein (H) W2-0
15-Nov-14 v Montenegro (H) D1-1
27-Mar-15 v Moldova (A) W2-0
14-Jun-15 v Montenegro (H) W3-1
05-Sep-15 v Russia (A) L0-1
08-Sep-15 v Austria (H) L1-4
09-Oct-15 v Liechtenstein (A) W2-0
12-Oct-15 v Moldova (H) W2-0
Playoffs Won 4-3 on aggregate
14-Nov-15 v Denmark (H) W2-1
17-Nov-15 v Denmark (A) D2-2
Top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimović (11)
Best performance Semi finals 1992

POLAND
FIFA ranking 34
UEFA ranking 17
Head coach Adam Nawałka (since October 2013)
Captain Robert Lewandowski
Qualifying results Runners-up of Group D (W6 D3 L1 F33 A10 Pts 21)
07-Sep-14 v Gibraltar (A) W7-0
11-Oct-14 v Germany (H) W2-0
14-Oct-14 v Scotland (H) D2-2
14-Nov-14 v Georgia (A) W4-0
29-Mar-15 v Ireland (A) D1-1
13-Jun-15 v Georgia (H) W4-0
04-Sep-15 v Germany (A) L1-3
07-Sep-15 v Gibraltar (H) W8-1
08-Oct-15 v Scotland (A) D2-2
11-Oct-15 v Ireland (H) W2-1
Top scorer Robert Lewandowski (13)
Best performance Group stage 2008, 2012
 
ROMANIA
FIFA ranking 16
UEFA ranking 18
Head coach Anghel Iordănescu (since October 2014)
Captain Răzvan Raț
Qualifying results Runners-up of Group F (W5 D5 L0 F11 A2 Pts 20)
07-Sep-14 v Greece (A) W1-0
11-Oct-14 v Hungary (H) D1-1
14-Oct-14 v Finland (A) W2-0
14-Nov-14 v Northern Ireland (H) W2-0
29-Mar-15 v Faroe Islands (H) W1-0
13-Jun-15 v Northern Ireland (A) D0-0
04-Sep-15 v Hungary (A) D0-0
07-Sep-15 v Greece (H) D0-0
08-Oct-15 v Finland (H) D1-1
11-Oct-15 v Faroe Islands (A) W3-0
Top scorers Constantin Budescu, Paul Papp, Bogdan Stancu (2)
Best performance Quarter finals 2000

SLOVAKIA
FIFA ranking 26
UEFA ranking 19
Head coach Ján Kozák (since July 2013)
Captain Martin Škrtel
Qualifying results Runners-up of Group C (W7 D1 L2 F17 A8 Pts 22)
08-Sep-14 v Ukraine (A) W1-0
09-Oct-14 v Spain (H) W2-1
12-Oct-14 v Belarus (A) W3-1
15-Nov-14 v FYR Macedonia (A) W2-0
27-Mar-15 v Luxembourg (H) W3-0
14-Jun-15 v FYR Macedonia (H) W2-1
05-Sep-15 v Spain (A) L0-2
08-Sep-15 v Ukraine (H) D0-0
09-Oct-15 v Belarus (H) L0-1
12-Oct-15 v Luxembourg (A) W4-2
Top scorer Marek Hamšík (5)
Best performance Never previously qualified

HUNGARY
FIFA ranking 20
UEFA ranking 20
Head coach Bernd Storck (since July 2015)
Captain Balázs Dzsudzsák
Qualifying results Third place in Group F (W4 D4 L2 F11 A9 Pts 16)
07-Sep-14 v Northern Ireland (H) L1-2
11-Oct-14 v Romania (A) D0-0
14-Oct-14 v Faroe Islands (A) W1-0
14-Nov-14 v Finland (H) W1-0
29-Mar-15 v Greece (H) D0-0
13-Jun-15 v Finland (A) W1-0
04-Sep-15 v Romania (H) D1-1
07-Sep-15 v Northern Ireland (A) D1-1
08-Oct-15 v Faroe Islands (H) W2-1
11-Oct-15 v Greece (A) L3-4
Playoffs Won 3-1 on aggregate
12-Nov-15 v Norway (A) W1-0
15-Nov-15 v Norway (H) W2-1
Top scorers Dániel Böde, Krisztián Németh, Tamás Priskin (2)
Best performance Semi finals 1964, 1972

POT D

TURKEY
FIFA ranking 21
UEFA ranking 22
Head coach Fatih Terim (since August 2013)
Captain Arda Turan
Qualifying results Third place in Group A (W5 D3 L2 F14 A9 Pts 18)
09-Sep-14 v Iceland (A) L0-3
10-Oct-14 v Czech Republic (H) L1-2
13-Oct-14 v Latvia (A) D1-1
16-Nov-14 v Kazakhstan (H) W3-1
28-Mar-15 v Netherlands (A) D1-1
12-Jun-15 v Kazakhstan (A) W1-0
03-Sep-15 v Latvia (H) D1-1
06-Sep-15 v Netherlands (H) W3-0
10-Oct-15 v Czech Republic (A) W2-0
13-Oct-15 v Iceland (H) W1-0
Top scorer Burak Yilmaz (4)
Best performance Semi finals 2008

IRELAND
FIFA ranking 31
UEFA ranking 23
Head coach Martin O'Neill (since November 2013)
Captain Robbie Keane
Qualifying results Third place in Group D (W5 D3 L2 F19 A7 Pts 18)
07-Sep-14 v Georgia (A) W2-1
11-Oct-14 v Gibraltar (H) W7-0
14-Oct-14 v Germany (A) D1-1
14-Nov-14 v Scotland (A) L0-1
29-Mar-15 v Poland (H) D1-1
13-Jun-15 v Scotland (H) D1-1
04-Sep-15 v Gibraltar (A) W4-0
07-Sep-15 v Georgia (H) W1-0
08-Oct-15 v Germany (H) W1-0
11-Oct-15 v Poland (A) L1-2
Playoff Won 3-1 on aggregate
13-Nov-15 v Bosnia-Herzegovina (A) D1-1
16-Nov-15 v Bosnia-Herzegovina (H) W2-0
Top scorer Robbie Keane, Jonathan Walters (5)
Best performance Group stage 1988, 2012

ICELAND
FIFA ranking 36
UEFA ranking 27
Head coaches Lars Lagerbäck and Heimir Hallgrímsson (since October 2011)
Captain Eiður Guðjohnsen
Qualifying results Runners-up of Group A (W6 D2 L2 F17 A6 Pts 20)
09-Sep-14 v Turkey (H) W3-0
10-Oct-14 v Latvia (A) W3-0
13-Oct-14 v Netherlands (H) W2-0
16-Nov-14 v Czech Republic (A) L1-2
28-Mar-15 v Kazakhstan (A) W3-0
12-Jun-15 v Czech Republic (H) W2-1
03-Sep-15 v Netherlands (A) W1-0
06-Sep-15 v Kazakhstan (H) D0-0
10-Oct-15 v Latvia (H) D2-2
13-Oct-15 v Turkey (A) L0-1
Top scorer Gylfi Sigurðsson (6)
Best performance Never previously qualified

WALES
FIFA ranking 17
UEFA ranking 28
Head coach Chris Coleman (since January 2012)
Captain Ashley Williams
Qualifying results Runners-up of Group B (W6 D3 L1 F11 A4 Pts 21)
09-Sep-14 v Andorra (A) W2-1
10-Oct-14 v Bosnia-Herzegovina (H) D0-0
13-Oct-14 v Cyprus (H) W2-1
16-Nov-14 v Belgium (A) D0-0
28-Mar-15 v Israel (A) W3-0
12-Jun-15 v Belgium (H) W1-0
03-Sep-15 v Cyprus (A) W1-0
06-Sep-15 v Israel (H) D0-0
10-Oct-15 v Bosnia-Herzegovina (A) L0-2
13-Oct-15 v Andorra (H) W2-0
Top scorer Gareth Bale (7)
Best performance Never previously qualified

ALBANIA
FIFA ranking 38
UEFA ranking 31
Head coach Gianni De Biasi (since December 2011)
Captain Lorik Cana
Qualifying results Runners-up of Group I (W4 D2 L2 F10 A5 Pts 14)
07-Sep-14 v Portugal (A) W1-0
11-Oct-14 v Denmark (H) D1-1
14-Oct-14 v Serbia (A) W3-0 (awarded)
29-Mar-15 v Armenia (H) W2-1
04-Sep-15 v Denmark (A) D0-0
07-Sep-15 v Portugal (H) L0-1
08-Oct-15 v Serbia (H) L0-2
11-Oct-15 v Armenia (A) W3-0
Top scorers Bekim Balaj, Berat Djimsiti, Shkëlzen Gashi, Ermir Lenjani, Mërgim Mavraj, Armando Sadiku, own goal (1)
Best performance Never previously qualified

NORTHERN IRELAND
FIFA ranking 30 
UEFA ranking 33
Head coach Michael O'Neill (since December 2011)
Captain Steven Davis
Qualifying results Winners of Group F (W6 D3 L1 F16 A8 Pts 21)
07-Sep-14 v Hungary (A) W2-1
11-Oct-14 v Faroe Islands (H) W2-0
14-Oct-14 v Greece (A) W2-0
14-Nov-14 v Romania (A) L0-2
29-Mar-15 v Finland (H) W2-1
13-Jun-15 v Romania (H) D0-0
04-Sep-15 v Faroe Islands (A) W3-1
07-Sep-15 v Hungary (H) D1-1
08-Oct-15 v Greece (H) W3-1
11-Oct-15 v Finland (A) D1-1
Top scorer Kyle Lafferty (7)
Best performance Never previously qualified

NOTES
- FIFA ranking refers to December 2015 release
- UEFA ranking determined by performance at Euro 2012, World Cup 2014 and qualification for Euro 2016
- Top scorer figures refer to Euro 2016 qualifying games only

- Best performance: Germany includes record of West Germany; Russia includes record of Soviet Union; Czech Republic includes record of Czechoslovakia

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