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Euro 2016: Four big questions

Euro 2016

Euro 2016 playoffs: Who will make it to the finals in France?

Eight teams will do battle in next month's playoffs to secure the final four places at the 2016 European Championship in France.

Sunday's draw saw Sweden pitted against rivals Denmark, Bosnia-Herzegovina against Ireland, Ukraine against Slovenia and Norway versus Hungary. But who will come out on top?

Sweden vs. Denmark

Sweden captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic has said a European Championship without him is "unimaginable" -- despite everybody seeing a 2014 World Cup without him -- but it's arguably even more difficult to imagine a Denmark side without coach Morten Olsen.

Olsen has been in charge for 15 years and recently announced that he's stepping down after this campaign.

Both men have become so identified with these teams, but it is Ibrahimovic who still represents the difference between the two. Even at the age of 34, the Paris Saint-Germain striker scored eight goals in qualifying -- the same as the entire Denmark team throughout their 10 games.

Ibrahimovic represents the one piece of gloss on this game, too. Sweden have badly struggled, suffering what Ibrahimovic described as "two catastrophic matches" in September, as they lost 1-0 away to Russia before being thrashed 4-1 by Austria at home.

Denmark, meanwhile, should have a bit more about them, especially with Christian Eriksen in attack, but it sums up their issues that Arsenal reject Nicklas Bendtner remains their main striker. He has two goals in this campaign.

It's not impossible to imagine a Denmark win, but due to Ibrahimovic's class alone, it seems likely the Swede will get his place at the tournament.

Prediction: Sweden

Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Ireland

It's a remarkable thing to say about the team that have just beaten the world champions -- after Shane Long's goal in Dublin downed Germany 1-0 -- but you have to wonder whether Ireland can finally defeat a side of a similar level to themselves.

That has been the curiosity with the side over the past decade since key midfielder Roy Keane retired in 2005. Ireland are very difficult to defeat but, in all that time, have only beaten two other teams ranked above them: Slovakia and Germany.

Bosnia-Herzegovina probably have more quality about them, not least in Roma striker Edin Dzeko, but are similar to Ireland in that both are coming off a disappointing group-stage exit at their last tournament.

Bosnia's 2014 World Cup was hugely underwhelming given their quality. That failure eventually led to the departure of manager Safet Susic and appointment of Mehmed Bazdarevic, who has greatly steadied the team. After a disastrous start to the group -- losing at home to Cyprus and getting thrashed by Israel in their first three games -- Bosnia are now in good form with five wins from their last six.

They also showed real character in coming from behind to beat Cyprus 3-2 away in the last group game.

Ireland are a bit harder to judge, having claimed four points off Germany, but only two from four games against Poland and Scotland. Away to Bosnia, Martin O'Neill's side will be without two cornerstone players -- defensive leader John O'Shea is suspended, as is Jon Walters, who has scored a series of key goals in this campaign. The suspicion is that Bosnia will have just a bit too much quality.

Prediction: Bosnia-Herzegovina

Ukraine were beaten by Slovenia in a playoff for Euro 2000.

Ukraine vs. Slovenia

This game provides a chance for Ukraine to rectify 2012, and a chance for Slovenia to again be the surprise package.

Slovenia beat Ukraine 3-2 in the playoff for Euro 2000, and the only European Championship that Ukraine have taken part in is the one they hosted in 2012.

Slovenia, meanwhile, are aiming for their fourth major tournament in the past 16 years -- a remarkable record for a country of less than 2 million people.

To try to do that, Slovenia have brought back Srecko Katanec, the manager responsible for taking them to Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup, but their qualification campaign shows what a tall order that is. Slovenia were tied for the fewest points of all third-place sides, and never really threatened England or Switzerland in their group.

That is probably just as well for Ukraine, because they failed to score a single goal against either of the top two teams in their group: Spain and Slovakia. That stat doesn't quite tell the full story, though, as Ukraine battered the Spanish in their final home game, and it remains remarkable that they didn't score in that 1-0 defeat after putting 28 shots on goal.

With Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka, they should have too much quality for Slovenia.

Prediction: Ukraine

Norway vs. Hungary

Both Norway and Hungary would have been hoping to draw one another, but that in itself suggests that both could face a tougher test than they might expect.

While Norway are on a surge -- having beaten Croatia last month and then losing so narrowly away to Italy in their final qualifier -- Hungary will be looking to emotionally recover from heartbreak.

After 30 years without qualifying for any tournament, the 1954 World Cup finalists were denied an automatic place in Euro 2016 due to Turkey beating Kazakhstan. In truth, it's hard to argue they deserved it, given how their campaign began to fall away. There is no greater indictment than the match away to Greece: Hungary had been leading 3-2 on 78 minutes, only to lose 4-3.

They're badly going to need the spirit that manager Bernd Stock has talked about, but it says much that top scorer Kristian Nemeth plays for Sporting Kansas City rather than even a midtier European side. By contrast, Norway are an upcoming side built on a solid foundation of youth.

They struggle for goals -- indeed, Norwich midfielder Alexander Tettey is their top scorer -- but they do play more progressive football, as manager Per-Mathias Hogmo has looked to move on from a history of long-ball football under predecessor Egil Olsen. They should have a bit too much for Hungary.

Prediction: Norway

Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.


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