Euro 2016 welcomes newcomers

2015-10-14 20:27
Euro 2016 (AP Photo)

Berlin - Not even an expanded format helped the Netherlands, who will miss out on the European football championships in France for the second time next year after also failing to qualify for the 1984 edition there.

Instead, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Albania and Slovakia will debut at the 24-team tournament.

The June 10-July 10 event will also feature two-times reigning champions Spain, world champions Germany, 100 per cent record England, and free-scoring Poland.

The Poles were unrivalled with 33 goals in their 10 games, got the biggest win 8-1 over debutants Gibraltar, and also provide the top scorer from Robert Lewandowski's 13-goal haul. In total 675 goals were recorded in the 260 games over 13 months.

France are entered directly as hosts, and the other qualified teams are 1976 winners Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia), Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, Turkey, Austria, 2018 World Cup hosts Russia, 1968 winners Italy, Croatia and Portugal.

Four places are still up for grabs, with Sweden, Hungary, Ukraine and Bosnia-Herzegovina seeded against Denmark, Norway, Ireland and Slovenia, for the two-legged play-offs drawn on Sunday and played between November 12 and 17.

The draw for the finals takes place December 12 in Paris where hosts France will head Group A and the others are seeded and put into four pots based on their UEFA coefficient.

While only eight teams played at France 1984 - with the Michel Platini-led hosts beating Spain in the final - the 2016 edition is the first with 24 teams, after 16 nations featured between 1996 and 2012.

The new format allowed the top two from each qualifying group and the best third-place overall to qualify directly, and the other third-placed sides entering the play-offs.

But not even this was achieved by the Dutch, who won Euro 1988 and were third at last year's World Cup but now are absent and out of the big stage overall for the first time since the 2002 World Cup.

A 3-2 home defeat against the Czech Republic, which included an own goal from Robin van Persie, was the fitting end to a campaign which the Oranje started with a 2-1 loss at the Czechs last year and which also saw two defeats against Iceland and a 3-0 drubbing in Turkey.

The fall was hard 15 months after a 3-0 victory over hosts Brazil in the World Cup third-place match.

Guus Hiddink took over from Louis van Gaal at the helm last year and many blame his return to the traditional Dutch 4-3-3 system after Van Gaal had enforced a 5-3-2 at the World Cup despite criticism.

Danny Blind, originally set to replace Hiddink after Euro 2016, took over from Hiddink in July but was unable to turn the tide and is under fire now as well.

"We have not been good enough," said Blind, adding that his team lacks depth to cover for injuries as "we are not a Germany or Spain."

While the Dutch will regroup and try making it to the 2018 World Cup, many eyes will be on England to see whether they are really as good when it matters after being the only team with 10 wins out of 10.

Only France (1992, 2004), the Czechs (2000), Germany and Spain (both 2012) have achieved this before - but the Spaniards in 2012 were the only ones to go on and lift the trophy as well.

"Winning 10 was the idea and the plan when we started the qualifying campaign. We knew it was going to be difficult but as the games went on they performed really well and it became more realistic that it could happen," said Everton's Phil Jagielka, who captained England in the concluding 3-0 win in Lithuania.

"Probably the hardest job between now and France is the manager's, he's got to try and whittle this really good pool of players down and decide which players he's taking with him."

Impressive Austria and the 2012 runners-up Italy also went unbeaten while the three-time champions Germany were the only group winners with two defeats.

That leaves coach Joachim Low with plenty of fine-tuning in the next months after a 1-0 defeat in Ireland and a meagre 2-1 over Georgia Sunday were not the ideal qualifying finale.

"We are happy to have qualified, but unhappy with the last two games overall. We are better than that. There is work to do," Low said.

Read more on:    euro 2016  |  soccer

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