Euro 2016 overview: Who made the automatic qualifying cut?
As the curtain comes down on Euro 2016 qualifying, with every game bar the third place play-off scuffles done and dusted, Coral experts step back to take an overview of the 19 teams (plus France) already assured of a ticket to the tournament.
First up, Pool A provided the biggest shocks, with the Czechs crowned victors of a tough table. The Central European outsiders proved resilient with just two defeats to finish top of the pile, though surprisingly never once managed to keep a clean sheet, instead relying on the likes of domestic-based Borek Dockal to outscore opponents.
The second surprise package. This Nordic nation boast their pool’s top poacher in Swansea City schemer Gylfi Sigurdsson, who hit six and inspired his side to big scalps against Turkey and the Netherlands. With Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson at the helm, Iceland are brilliantly balanced, having scored 17 but conceded just six.
The Comeback Kings rallied late in the qualifying stages to snatch a place on the plane as best third placed finishers from all nine groups. Captain Arda Turan and striker Burak Yilmaz proved crucial in the final push, as the Crescent Moons ended five points clear of calamitous Clockwork Orange.
The Red Devils displayed spades of dangerous firepower to claim Pool B, yet still looked far from their best. With Premier League scoring talents such as Christian Benteke, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard all finding the net, they were always favourites.
Chris Coleman’s Dragons were the story of the group. Wales have now qualified for their first major tournament in around 60 years, with a mix of defensive diligence, team spirit and Gareth Bale’s strikes making history for the Home Nation, and forcing Bosnia and Herzegovina into the play-offs.
Despite an early stumble, the current Euro champs raced to the finish line with nine wins and a terrific 23 goals scored, debuting a handful of future stars along the way. Vicente Del Bosque’s boys (6/1 with Coral to win in France) look a lethal machine once again.
The Slovakians pipped Ukraine to second spot quite easily, shocking Spain along the way, with Serie A stars Juraj Kucka (AC Milan) and Marek Hamsik (Napoli) leading lights.
World Cup winners Germany suffered two losses and a defeat in this dangerous group, but still came out on top despite their wobbles. Marksman Thomas Muller is still smashing them in, but Joachim Low’s men illustrated plenty of weaknesses in qualifying.
The White Eagles soared to second spot with a comprehensive victory against the Republic of Ireland, ending just one point behind winners and rivals Germany. Lethal Robert Lewandowski’s record-equalling 13 goals were, of course, key.
The Three Lions (11/1 to win Euro 2016) deserve plenty of plaudits for a perfect qualifying campaign, in which they nabbed a maximum 30 points, became the first to qualify after France, kept an excellent eight clean sheets and saw Wayne Rooney become their all-time top scorer.
The Swiss are a sturdy outfit and simply qualified five points ahead of closest rivals Slovenia, though despite the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri in the squad, often lacked sparkle.
Another heroic Home Nations narrative, Northern Ireland inched ahead of Romania to triumph in their group and reach their first Euro finals, with much down to terrific team spirit and a goal glut from Norwich City’s Kyle Lafferty.
Despite going impressively undefeated through qualifying, five draws saw the Romanians come undone and finish one point and place beind minnows Northern Ireland.
Another unbeaten in their campaign, the Alpine nation reached France eight points ahead of second spot Russia. Skipper and striker Marc Janko and diligent David Alaba are examples of the great balance Austria will bring to France.
Despite the drama of managerial changes, called-off games and goalies injured by flares, the Russians managed to put an impressive run together to clinch second place before Sweden.
Also undefeated in qualifying, the Italians topped their table with relative ease, though reliance on ageing legs does not bode well for their summer exploits across the border.
A last-gasp effort saw the Blazers brilliantly displace Norway from second, thanks to another goal from leading group scorer Ivan Perisic.
Despite an early change of coach, the Navigators steered themselves rather unspectacularly to the head of the queue. A place in France is theirs, but the Portuguese also possess a few to many in the twilight of their careers.
The final shock in qualifying, underdogs Albania dumped a dry Denmark into the play-offs thanks to a fantastic team effort.