With Germany and Spain reeling from defeat, the Netherlands and Italy having laboured to victory and Switzerland and Portugal yet to win, the European big boys have a point to prove going into the third round of UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying matches. On the other hand, countries such as Czech Republic, Austria and Romania are enjoying a return to the limelight, while up-and-coming pretenders like Iceland, Wales and Slovakia are bidding to build on their promising showings thus far.
The big match
Iceland-Netherlands, Group A, 13 October, Reykjavik, Laugardalsvollur stadium, 20:45 (local time)
Iceland have moved to the top of Group A alongside Czech Republic thanks to their best ever start to qualifying: two 3-0 victories in as many games. Lars Lagerback's industrious side have a man in form in Gylfi Sigurdsson, who has netted in both of the team's matches so far. The Netherlands will have their work cut out to break down their compact opponents and will certainly need a better all-round performance than against Kazakhstan, when they trailed 1-0 at half-time and had to rely on some individual inspiration from Arjen Robben and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to bail them out. The 2014 FIFA World Cup™ semi-finalists are struggling to find their feet both up front and at the back and paid the price for their defensive frailties in their opening outing, a 2-1 defeat in Prague.
- Beaten 2-1 at home by Cyprus and held to a goalless draw in Wales, Bosnia-Herzegovina are in need of points even at this early stage. Unfortunately for coach Safet Susic, his team can expect a stern test against Belgium, who are brimming with confidence following a 6-0 thrashing of Andorra, in which Divock Origi led the line impressively.
- Fortunate to scrape a 2-1 victory over Scotland in their opener, Germany followed up that result by falling to a 2-0 loss in Poland, ending their 33-game unbeaten streak in qualifying. The world champions have been creating plenty of chances but have lacked the ruthlessness they showed this summer in Brazil. They will have had three days to put that right in training by the time they host Republic of Ireland, another side who fancy their chances of making it to France 2016.
Did you know?
A Real trailblazer: Welsh wizard Gareth Bale is determined to lead his country into the European Championship finals, a feat that proved beyond former greats such as Ian Rush, Mark Hughes and Ryan Giggs. "I want to make history with Wales and qualify for a major tournament. For us to reach Euro 2016 would rank right up there with winning the Champions League," the Real Madrid star stated recently.
Hats off to a golden oldie: At the princely age of 34, Ireland's Robbie Keane grabbed a quick-fire hat-trick against Gibraltar to become the top scorer in European Championship qualifying history, with 21 goals. In fact, he took just 17 minutes to complete his treble, a new record in the competition (Marco van Basten held the previous fastest mark for his three goals against Malta in 1990).
Green power: The grass could not be greener than on the Emerald Isle right now. Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland both boast 100 per cent records and top their respective groups to boot.
14 – The number of goals conceded by Gibraltar, UEFA's newest member, in two matches, a record.
"I don't think we're in a negative dynamic," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque
Have your say
Why do you think the European powerhouses have endured such a difficult start to qualifying?