Heroes and Villains: Exciting Euro 2016 qualifying shocks and thrills
It was another superb set of Euro 2016 qualifying clashes, with many of the British Isles nations grabbing valuable points against tough opposition to move closer to a place in France next summer.
There were plenty of stars who shone for their countries at a vital stage, while some failed to live up to expectations. Here are our international heroes and villains from the latest qualifying round.
Being deployed in a holding midfield role, many expected the young Gunner to dictate play from deep, but Wilshere managed to burst forward into scoring positions and sensationally managed to strike his first two international goals, in incredible fashion, as he took charge of proceedings.
The Arsenal playmaker has had to wait a long time for his maiden England goals, since making his bow in 2010, but his sublime double inspired his nation towards an eventual 3-2 triumph over Slovenia, keeping a perfect start to qualifying intact for Roy Hodgson’s men (12/1 with Coral to win Euro 2016).
Next season, Anya will be gracing the Premier League after Watford’s recent Championship promotion, but on the international stage this Scottish winger dazzled to help earn a potentially decisive point over the Republic of Ireland in Dublin.
Seamus Coleman continued to terrorise the right flank at the Aviva Stadium, but Anya’s introduction saw that threat get thwarted and Gordon Strachan’s side regained momentum. The Watford winger’s contributions helped his nation earn a 1-1 draw, and are now well poised ahead of Ireland to qualify.
Wales have been reliant on their wing wizard in qualifying and, against the world’s second best team according to FIFA rankings, Bale produced the goods again to vitally topple Belgium 1-0. Chris Coleman’s men are now 11/10 to secure qualification for the tournament in top spot.
The rapid Real Madrid attacker showed great composure to take the ball down on his chest and clinically slot home to give the Welsh a crucial 1-0 victory, proving the La Liga wideman hasn’t been affected by a recent onslaught of criticism regarding his apparent poor domestic form.
Despite securing an important away win against Slovenia, the Three Lions rearguard endured an extremely poor night which could have cost them points, if not for the brilliance of Wilshere and the eventual killer instincts of Wayne Rooney.
The entire backline were poor, especially for the opening goal, as Phil Jones literally threw the ball away deep in the hosts’ half, while Chris Smalling was caught out of position, and Chelsea’s Gary Cahill opted to apply a hopeless offside trap, which gifted Milivoje Novakovic with acres of space to score.
The towering Northern Ireland frontman was expected to continue his fine form in front of goal in their showdown with Group F leaders Romania, but a scoreless draw on the road sees Michael O’Neill’s men sit a point adrift of their latest opponents.
Lafferty spurned several chances to grab a potential winner for his nation and should have been more clinical, having already netted five times in qualifying, but his night, along with Northern Ireland’s, ended in frustration.
Martin O’Neill spoke of his Boys in Green showing their true potential in this crucial qualifying clash with the Scots, but again the Irish failed to deliver a much-needed triumph on home soil. Throughout their campaign, late goals have been a key feature, but Ireland were haplessly held to a 1-1 draw.
Jonathan Walters looked to have given Ireland a commanding position to build upon, but sloppy build-up from the midfield in possession and an evident lack of killer instinct saw a stuttering stalemate be played out on home turf. Ireland are now 13/5 to secure qualification for the competition in France.