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5 talking points ahead of the upcoming Euro 2016 qualifiers
There’s a lot more to look forward to in the coming days aside from Ireland-Poland encounter.

Updated at 17.01

1. Will Hodgson put his faith in Kane?

Group E

ON CLUB FORM alone, Harry Kane deserves to start for England against Lithuania tonight.

He has scored 19 goals for Tottenham in the league, with only Chelsea’s Diego Costa managing as many. It is an especially phenomenal achievement when you consider that Kane wasn’t even a regular starter for Spurs during the first couple of months of the season.

However, Hodgson is remaining coy as to whether the in-form striker will be picked from the start this evening.

“I’m pretty sure over the course of these two games he will make his full debut. He’s rightly getting lot of plaudits,” Hodgson told reporters.

“But I’m not prepared to give my selection away — people will have to wait and see.”

With maximum points from four games, England haven’t exactly been doing badly without Kane, but with Daniel Sturridge yet to get back to his best following a lengthy spell on the sidelines (and absent from the current squad), it would be no surprise to see the Tottenham man take his place up front tonight and for the foreseeable future.

2. Can Germany get back to their best?

Group D

Joachim Löw’s side have been experiencing an extended World Cup hangover, since being crowned champions last summer.

Despite being strong favourites to come top, after four games, Germany are only joint second — level on points with Ireland and Scotland.

And their recent unconvincing form showed no signs of abating on Wednesday, as they laboured to a 2-2 draw against Australia.

A series of post-World Cup injuries and retirements haven’t helped matters, but even still, Germany have conspicuously underachieved in recent times.

“We never really had our defence under control,” Löw admitted after the Australia game, but added: “The team’s tension will increase ahead of the Georgia game.”

How difficult life is for the Germans will, of course, also heavily depend on Georgia. They had enough resolve and defensive organisation to trouble both Ireland and Scotland earlier in the campaign, but then collapsed all too easily in the 4-0 loss at home to Poland.

3. Will Northern Ireland recover from Romanian setback?

N Ireland

Northern Ireland host Finland on Sunday, and a win would undoubtedly be a big step towards qualification.

Michael O’Neill’s side currently sit second on Group D, one point behind leaders Romania — who defeated them when the sides met last November.

The North haven’t qualified for a major international tournament since the 1986 World Cup, but arguably have their best chance to do so since then in this current campaign.

A defeat would likely end Finland’s hopes of qualification, meaning it would come down to three teams — with Romania and Hungary vying for top spot along with O’Neill’s men.

And despite losing to Scotland on Wednesday night, the Northern Irish boss took encouragement from the performance, particularly given the relative youth of the side.

“We ended up with three 20-year-olds or under-20-year-olds on the pitch,” he said.

“The likes of Paddy McNair, Luke McCullough, Ryan McLaughlin — it’s great for those lads to get minutes in this type of game.”

4. Only three points will suffice for Spain


In terms of talent, Spain remain undeniably as good as any team in the world — the fact that players as impressive as Juan Mata and Cesar Azpilicueta haven’t even made the squad reflects the embarrassment of riches at their disposal.

While Xavi may be past his best, players such as Atletico Madrid’s Koke have emerged as viable replacements. Fernando Torres is no longer the player he was, but Diego Costa has established himself as unquestionably one of the best strikers on the planet (though he is injured for tonight’s game).

Consequently, on paper, the Spaniards should be too good for Ukraine this evening.

That said, much like fellow European superpowers Germany, Vicente del Bosque’s team have struggled to convince at times during qualifying, most notably when they lost 2-1 against Slovakia last October.

With Del Bosque already under pressure following a poor showing at the 2014 World Cup, his side must take control of Group C sooner rather than later, or his departure may occur earlier than scheduled (he has said he will step down after Euro 2016).

5. Can Gareth Bale put club problems behind him?

Group B

It’s been a case of second season syndrome to some degree for Gareth Bale at Real Madrid this year.

Despite scoring 18 goals in all competitions this season, sections of the Real support are clearly not happy, as reflected by one supporter’s decision to kick the star’s car following their loss to Barca in El Clasico.

Unsurprisingly, the player has looked short of confidence on the pitch as a result of this disharmony and amid rumours of problems between himself and fellow superstar Ronaldo.

Naturally though, he has been backed unequivocally in the Wales camp recently, with Swansea left-back Neil Taylor telling reporters.

“He isn’t going to care what I think about how he’s playing, the same way he isn’t going to care what some reporter writes who’s never played the game. I think [Gareth] deals with it really well and, to be fair, it looks like it comes with the job at Real Madrid that, when you’re a player there, you have to perform every game, you have to score every game.”

And Wales will need Bale to be at his best on Saturday evening, as they travel to face Israel, who top the group — one point ahead of Chris Coleman’s side.

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