The qualifying group stage for the 2016 European Championships has finished, and it was not without some surprises and shocks.
A quick rundown of who has qualified:
France – the hosts of the tournament
England – the only team with a perfect record in qualifying
Czech Republic – 1976 champions of Europe
Iceland – First ever appearance in the tournament
Austria – First time qualifying for tournament after hosting in 2008
Northern Ireland – First ever appearance in the tournament
Portugal – Ronaldo will look to win his first trophy with Portugal
Spain – Holders of the trophy and looking for third straight title
Switzerland – They will try to finally make it out of the group stage
Italy – Despite world cup glory, they have only won this trophy once in 1968
Belgium – The top ranked team in the world right now
Wales – First ever appearance in the tournament
Romania –This is their fifth appearance in the tournament
Albania – First ever appearance in the tournament
Germany – World Cup holders and three-time European Champions
Poland – Top scorer in qualifying was Poland’s Robert Lewandowski
Russia – 1960 winners of this competition
Slovakia – First ever appearance in the tournament
Croatia – Despite the point reduction for racist behavior, they have qualified.
Turkey – Best third place team in the group stage
Big takeaway: There are currently 5 teams that have never played in the summer tournament and could be joined by another team that has not played in the tournament in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Austria and potentially Ukraine can qualify for the first time having both hosted in the past. The expanded field is really giving some new countries a chance, and it should hopefully make France 2016 very exciting and filled with passion.
Who will join these teams in the last four spots? The following third place teams will be drawn into a two legged play-off to see which four advance.
Pot 1: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine, Sweden, Hungary
Pot 2: Denmark, Republic of Ireland, Norway, Slovenia
Notable teams missing: Ohh this is a big one too. The Netherlands has failed to qualify. They needed to beat the Czech Republic to advance, but a Robin Van Persie own goal was the difference as they lost 3-2. This is the first time that they have not qualified since 1984. That is 7 straight tournaments. However Dutch fans, just a note from history, the last time they did not qualify was 1984. Do you know what happened in 1988? They won their only European Championship trophy.
Some other notes on teams that did not qualify… Andorra, Gibraltar, San Marino, Moldova, Malta, and Armenia all failed to win, but only Andorra and Gibraltar failed to register a point. Scotland is the only team from the British Isles to be currently eliminated and if Ireland qualifies, then the only one not to play this upcoming summer.