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The most unexpected participants in the history of the euro. Russia’s bullies and the Spartak coach’s gang

Date: September 22, 2023 Time: 20:33:40

The qualifying round for Euro 2024 has crossed the halfway point. In each group, a circle of teams was identified that will compete to reach the final stage. And there were several sensations. Teams that no one expects to see there could go to the tournament in Germany in 2024. Armenia, Albania, Moldova, Montenegro, Slovenia, Finland, Kazakhstan, Israel, Luxembourg and Wales still have a chance to win the European Championship. They are not the most frequent participants in the World Cup and the Euro Cup. Which of the sensational teams played in the European Championship before?

Bulgaria national team (Euro 1996, Euro 2004)

Bulgaria national team in Euro 1996

Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

In the 90s of the 20th century, Bulgaria was a real force. This is the best moment in the team’s history. In the 1994 World Cup, the Bulgarians finished fourth and reached the 1996 Euro Cup as a “dark horse”. Additionally, England’s tournament was the first to include 16 teams. In the selection, Bulgaria took second place, without Germany, but ahead of Georgia, Wales, Albania and Moldova. And in the final tournament, striker Hristo Stoichkov’s team beat France, Spain and Romania: a serious group! Bulgaria was on the verge of leaving the group, but still let the French and Spanish through. In the first round, Dimitar Penev’s team drew with Spain (1-1), then defeated Romania (1-0) and in the decisive match lost to France (1-3).

The next attempt to shine at the Euro Cup occurred in 2004. In the qualifying phase Bulgaria took first place, ahead of Croatia, Belgium, Estonia and Andorra. The leaders of that team were Stilyan Petrov and Dimitar Berbatov. But Bulgaria did not have good results at the Euro: 0:5 against Sweden, 0:2 against Denmark and 1:2 against Italy. A natural fourth place and a long life outside of the big tournaments.

Slovenia national team (Europe 2000)

Slovenia national team in Euro 2000

Photo: Martin Rose/Getty Images

The “horrible dream” of the Russian team qualified for the European Championship only once. In qualifying for the 2000 tournament, the Slovenians finished second, ahead of Greece, Albania, Latvia and Georgia, and then beat Ukraine in the playoffs. The main star of that squad is midfielder Zlatko Zahovic. It was he who scored one of the goals in the first match against the Ukrainians. At Euro 2000, Slovenia proved to be a strong team, but failed to get out of the group. In the first round he starred in an exciting match against Yugoslavia (3-3) with a double from Zahovich. Then, defeat against Spain (1-2) and a goalless draw with Norway. Slovenia took fourth place, but was remembered for the match against the Yugoslavs. The team has not qualified for the European Championship again, but now it can do so.

Norway national team (Euro 2000)

Norway – Spain in Euro 2000

Photo: Martin Rose/Getty Images

Now it seems strange to classify the Norwegians as a weak team, taking into account that Erling Haaland and Martin Odegaard play for them. But Norway has only qualified for the European Championship once. In the qualification for the 2000 European Championship he took first place, after which in the final tournament he was in the group with Spain, Yugoslavia and Slovenia. In round 1 they managed to beat the Spanish (1-0), but in the most important match against the Yugoslavs they lost (0-1). In round 3, the Norwegians played 0-0 with Slovenia, which did not allow them to leave the group. Yugoslavia overtook them due to the result of the head-to-head confrontation, and Spain, thanks to the incredible result of the match against the same Yugoslavs (4-3).

Will we see Norway at Euro 2024? Scotland went too far in their qualifying group: 15 points from five games. And they are followed by a formidable Spain (nine points in four games). It is unlikely that the “Red Fury” will allow themselves to miss the Euro Cup. Norway has seven points after five games: it would take a mini-miracle to qualify for the European Championship. There is also the possibility of doing so through the League of Nations.

Latvia national team (Europe 2004)

Latvia national team in Euro 2004

Photo: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

One of the most unexpected participants in the history of the European Championship. Furthermore, the Latvians reached the final tournament, where 16 more teams were selected, making the achievement more significant. In the qualifying phase, Latvia took second place in the group, ahead of Poland, Hungary and San Marino and behind Sweden. This result has already become a success for Alexander Starkov’s team. Latvia faced Turkey in the play-offs, which took bronze at the 2002 World Championships. And the Latvians sensationally defeated the Turks! In the first match they won 1:0 and away from home they tied 2:2.

Latvia reached a major tournament for the first time. And this has already gone down in history. The team’s place in the European Championship was not so important. Furthermore, Latvians were included in the “death group” along with the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Germany. Surprisingly, even in such a foursome the team scored one point. Latvia drew goalless with Germany in the second round. The Latvians also forced the Czech Republic to fight and even led the match, but lost 1:2. In round 3, Starkov’s team lost to the Netherlands 0-3, but still left a good impression. The Latvians were no longer close to the Euro and Starkov immediately after the tournament took charge of Spartak Moscow.

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Wales national team (Euro 2016, Euro 2020)

Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale at Euro 2016 with Wales

Photo: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

In their long history, the Welsh have only played the European Championship twice. The first experience occurred in 2016. Wales finished second in the qualifying round and advanced from the group together with Belgium. In the Euro Cup itself, the team ended up forming a quartet with England, Slovakia and Russia. And she showed the best side of her. Wales beat the Slovaks (2-1) and left no chance for Russia (3-0), losing in a bitter fight only to the British (1-2). The Welsh took first place in the group and in the round of 16 they beat Northern Ireland (1-0). Then came a great sensation: the victory over Belgium (3-1) in the quarterfinals. Only Portugal (0-2), future champions, stopped Bale’s group. But the bronze in the debut Euro Cup is an incredible success.

Wales also qualified for the next European Championship. The British calmly left the qualifying group in second place, and then at the Euro Cup itself they also took second place in the quartet. But the team’s story ended in the round of 16, where Wales lost to Denmark 0:4. The Danes took over the sensations of the Welsh, also finally reaching the top 4, like Bale’s team in the last tournament.

Slovakia national team (Euro 2016, Euro 2020)

Slovakia national team in Euro 2016

Photo: Alexander Safonov, “Championship”

Slovakia is not exactly a weak team and often fights for a ticket to the European Championship. And they qualified for the 2010 World Championship. But so far the team has only reached the Euro Cup twice. In qualifying for Euro 2016, Slovakia beat Ukraine, Belarus, Luxembourg and North Macedonia. And in the tournament itself they beat Russia in the group (2:1), drew with England (0:0) and lost only to Wales (1:2). The Slovaks reached the round of 16, but there they were defeated by the German team with a score of 0:3. Predictable defeat, but great debut in the European Championship, straight to the playoffs.

For the next European Championship, the qualification cycle has become a tournament in which even the third-placed team can reach the decisive phase. Slovakia finished third in their group, behind Croatia and Wales. But he won his quartet in the Nations League. Then, the Slovaks achieved success in the mini-tournament for a ticket to the Euro Cup. In the semi-finals they beat Ireland on penalties (0-0, 4-2), and in the final they defeated Northern Ireland in extra time (2-1). And in that clever and indirect way we qualified for the euro. But this time it did not go well in the final phase of the Euro Cup. They managed to defeat Poland (2-1), but the defeats of Spain (0-5) and Sweden (0-1) were critical. Slovakia took third place, but turned out to be the worst of the six teams that went up this line, so they were eliminated from the Euro Cup.

Slovakia could well qualify directly for Euro 2024. Playing in a group with Portugal and Luxembourg, these are the main competitors. The former are already almost 100%, but the Slovaks can handle the latter, especially now that they are three points ahead.

Northern Ireland national team (Europe 2016)

The joy of the Northern Ireland players at Euro 2016

Photo: Alexander Safonov, “Championship”

Euro 2016 was the first tournament to feature 24 teams in the group stage, so there were more surprise entrants. One of them was Northern Ireland. In the qualifying phase for Euro 2016, the team sensationally took first place. Northern Ireland beat Romania, Hungary, Finland, the Faroe Islands and Greece. And at the European Championship itself I found myself in good company with Germany, Poland and Ukraine. And he was able to make the playoffs! Everything was decided with the victory over the Ukrainians (2-0). The fact that the Northern Irish lost to Poland and Germany by a minimal score also played a role. Thanks to a good goal difference (2-2), they occupied fourth position in the ranking of third teams and reached the round of 16. But in the first round of the playoffs the fairy tale ended: Northern Ireland lost to Wales in a bitter fight. However, the team could still give itself a good qualification for that tournament.

Albania national team (Europe 2016)

Emotions of the Albanian national team players at Euro 2016

Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Unexpected participant of Euro 2016. Albania has never been considered a strong team, but it surprised in the qualifying round. They beat Serbia, Denmark and Armenia in the group, leaving only Portugal ahead. And for the first time I qualified for the Euro Cup. In the group stage, Albania faced hosts France, as well as powerhouses Switzerland and Romania. In the first round, the Albanians lost to the Swiss by a minimal score, then fell to the French (0:2) and almost lost their chances of reaching the playoffs. The victory over Romania (1-0) in the third round only sweetened the pill: Albania finished last in the third-placed standings and left the tournament.

In qualifying for Euro 2024, the Albanians unexpectedly lead Group E, ahead of the Czech Republic, Moldova, Poland and the Faroe Islands. There are possibilities of qualifying for the Eurocup again and causing a surprise.

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Iceland national team (Europe 2016)

Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson at Euro 2016 as part of the Iceland national team

Photo: Alexander Mysyakin, “Championship”

Another European Championship debutant, who played the tournament for the first time in 2016. The Icelanders advanced from the qualifying group along with the Czech Republic, Turkey, Netherlands, Kazakhstan and Latvia. Solid company! And in the Euro Cup we left the group with Hungary, Portugal and Austria from second place. But the Icelanders gave the big surprise in the round of 16. A team from a small island eliminated England from the tournament! After this, the national team players became heroes of the nation. And despite losing to France in the quarterfinals by 2-5, they wrote history.

North Macedonia national team (Euro 2020)

North Macedonia squad for Euro 2020

Photo: Peter Dejong/Getty Images

An unexpected participant in Euro 2020, which arrived thanks to the Nations League. North Macedonia won the group on Route D and then beat Kosovo and Georgia in the playoffs to qualify for the European Championship. But I couldn’t shine in the tournament. The Macedonians lost in all games: Austria (1-3), Ukraine (1-2) and Holland (0-3). However, the very fact of the team’s participation in the Euro Cup has already become a sensation. And it was nice to see senior forward Goran Pandev in a major tournament.

Finland national team (Euro 2020)

Russia – Finland match at Euro 2020. Alexander Golovin, Rasmus Schuller and Robin Laud.

Photo: Dmitry Golubovich, “Championship”

The Finns were lucky with their Euro 2020 qualifying group. Yes, they let future champions Italy move on, but they were ahead of Greece, Bosnia and the not-so-powerful, crisis-stricken Armenia and Liechtenstein. For the first time, Finland qualified for the European Championship and, indeed, for a major tournament. They even managed to get a victory at the Euro: the Finns unexpectedly beat Denmark (1:0) in the first round of the group stage. True, that meeting was overshadowed by a terrible incident with Christian Eriksen: the star midfielder suffered cardiac arrest. This probably affected the morale of the Danes. Then Finland lost to Russia (0:1) and Belgium (0:2), after which they left the European Championship. In the ranking of third-place teams, the Finns took fifth place.

It is very possible that Finland will qualify directly for Euro 2024 again. They are fighting for a place with Denmark, Slovenia and Kazakhstan. In their group everything is tight, the main fight is still ahead. Everything is in the hands of the Finns themselves: to win and qualify for the Euro Cup.

Summing up the results of the September matches

Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.

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