Last weekend Italy, Spain, Portugal and Germany booked their ticket to Euro 2016 but the limelight was somewhat stolen by some mighty minnows who made their own history by advancing to their first ever Euro finals.
Albania qualified for next year’s European championships in France after a 3-0 away win over Armenia clinched them second place in Group I behind group winners Portugal.
Albania kept a clean sheet in their last four away matches of a roller-coaster qualifying campaign that included two politically-fragile encounters with Serbia.
It is the first time Albania have qualified for any major tournament.
Iceland had booked their spot in France with two games to spare but on Saturday stumbled to a disappointing 2-2 draw with Latvia.
Despite failing to continue their magnificent streak of Group A victories including wins against out-of-sorts the Netherlands and Turkey the Scandinavians march confidently into Euro 2016 for their first major tournament.
Northern Ireland are also through and with style topping Group F which included 2004 champions Greece.
Michael O’Neill’s men conceded a late equalizer away to Finland in their latest outing but that point was enough to see them through to their first major tournament in 30 years.
They also become the first fifth seeds to win a European Championship qualifying group.
It might be 30 years that Northern Ireland haven’t been in a major finals but for Wales it will be 58 years.
Despite losing 2-0 against Bosnia-Herzegovina at the weekend Chris Coleman’s side qualified for Euro 2016 courtesy of Israel’s defeat to Cyprus.
It will be the first euro appearance for Wales, who will end group B as runners up and their first major tournament since the 1958 world cup.
Up and Down
Last week, world football’s governing body FIFA took yet another hit and this time at the top when three of the most high-profile officials were suspended. To no surprise they make our ‘‘Up & Down’‘ list this week.
Under-fire FIFA President Sepp Blatter was suspended from his duties for 90 by the group’s ethics committee amid corruption investigations.
He has denied any wrong doing.
One of the investigations into Blatter concerns a payment to the man who wants to succeed him – Uefa chief and FIFA vice president Michel Platini who has also been suspended for three months.
And making up the trio of men in the ethics committee’s bad books is FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke, who was provisionally suspended for the same amount of time over allegations concerning the sale of World Cup tickets.
Road to Euro
Today in our Road to Euro segment, we take a look at how one of the two 1968 semi-finals was decided and it wasn’t through goals.
In the 1968 European Football Championship, the semi-final between Italy and the Soviet Union finished 0-0 after extra-time. Penalty shoot-outs had not been invented yet, so it was decided to toss a coin, to see who reached the final.
The coin toss has been used on plenty of occasions to decide something more than the kickoff or who uses the home dressing room, but by far the most important and high-profile occurrence was the semifinal of the 1968 European Championships.
Italy and the USSR could not be split despite 120 minutes of play — the game ending 0-0 after extra time — so with the trusty old penalty shootout not introduced until two years later, the rules stated a coin toss would determine the victors.
The match officials scuttled off pretty quickly, not wanting to be the ones to decide such a huge game in such a silly way, so it fell to a Senor Pujols, the UEFA official on duty, to do the honours.
After some argument about the currency of coin used (a peseta, a ruble and a dollar were all apparently rejected), Pujols flipped a Dutch guilder into the air; Soviet captain Albert Shesternyov called heads but it came down tails, sending Italy through to the final.
Rumour has it that was actually the second attempt at the toss after the first coin had disappeared under a grate. Later, one of the match officials supposedly went to recover the original coin, which lay there with the head staring straight upwards. On such fine and random margins, these things are decided.
We might be wrong
For ‘We might be wrong’ we have chosen some selected matches from next weekend’s domestic leagues from across Europe. Don’t forget to send in your predictions using #TheCornerScores.
Villarreal 2-0 Celta Vigo
Inter 1-1 Juventus
Heracles 0-3 Ajax
Getting close to your footballing idol is a dream for many a kid. Well, a dream certainly came true for one emotional little boy in Spain when during the national team’s training session in Las Rozas, Iker Casillas offered an early Christmas present.(see clip above).