Euro 2016 overview: Who made the coveted play-off positions?
After 14 months and 260 games during Euro 2016 qualifying action, the group stage is over, with the winners and runners-up all booking their place in France next summer, along with the best third-placed nation Turkey.
Following those enthralling final fixtures, the remaining eight third-placed countries will now contest over two legs in November to determine the last four qualifiers in the daunting play-offs, with an anticipated draw taking place on Sunday October 18th .
Ahead of next summer’s tournament in France, where Germany are the 10/3 favourites to triumph with Coral, the eight play-off sides have been divided into seeded and non-seeded nations, with one of each section battling for qualification.
The first legs are set to take place on November 12 and 14, while the return fixtures will be held immediately from the 15 to 17 next month too. So who has managed to make it this far for the lottery of the play-offs?
Seeded nations for the next stage of qualifying are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Ukraine and Sweden, while the Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Norway and Slovenia are those un-seeded.
Despite holding the second-best defensive record in Group C behind only reigning European champions Spain, Ukraine were summoned to the play-offs, with their final fixture defeat to Vicente Del Bosque’s side coinciding with runners-up Slovakia’s win over Luxembourg.
Bosnia and Herzegovina fell short of leaders Belgium and a historic second-placed Wales outfit, though they will be content with their position as the two leading countries in Group B proved to be potentially dangerous outfits for next summer.
In Group F, Hungary were third-placed behind an impressive Northern Ireland and defiant Romania, while Sweden will undoubtedly be a threat to the un-seeded play-off nations with a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their ranks. The Swedes may yet regret not pipping Austria and Russia to an automatic qualifying spot though, after several underwhelming results, but they are 66/1 to go all the way in France.
For Martin O’Neill’s battling Irish side, the job is far from done, having been narrowly edged out of an automatic position by a deadly Poland which possessed a truly rampant Robert Lewandwoski in Group D. Despite previously overcoming world champions Germany, the Boys in Green now face potentially tough play-off encounters, but have shown they have the quality and drive to progress.
Denmark will feel as if they missed a huge opportunity, with Albania incredibly securing their first ever Euro finals place with second-place in group I, meaning the Danes had to settle for third, while Portugal dominantly sat at the summit.
Slovenia were the victims of a solid England set-up in Group E, with the Three Lions running away at the summit ahead of a strong Switzerland side, meaning third-place was theirs for the taking, while Estonia, Lithuania and San Marino caused no threat at all.
Norway were cruelly denied an automatic place in the final moments of their last qualifying clash with Group H victors Italy, as Antonio Conte’s Azzurri staged a late comeback to win 2-1 and ensure they have not been toppled competitively on home soil in over a decade. The result also meant Croatia crept into second with their narrow 1-0 victory over minnows Malta.
Next month will finally determine the full line-up for the Euro 2016 finals in France, with eight nations hoping to secure a place alongside the other 19 already qualified countries through the formidable play-offs, but that path towards the tournament is never easy.