22 November 2015

Euro 2016 - The Finals' Twenty-Four

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Last week, while Northern Ireland's players enjoyed a nice relaxing recovery from their none-too-taxing friendly win over Latvia, eight teams battled it out for the final four places in France. Of course, these matches were played under a considerable shadow cast by the terrorist attacks on Paris, and we can only hope that next summer's festival of football will not only raise the spirits, but also prove that civilised society will not be cowed by threats and violence.

Now we know the identities of the final twenty four, and their relative seedings that are based on UEFA coefficients and seem to have been designed to maintain the hierarchy of Europe's richest nations rather than reward the performances of the qualified teams. Hence, group-topping Northern Ireland find themselves in the bottom seedings pot, while Romania and Hungary who we finished above in qualifying, are both in a higher pot.

We won't know who Northern Ireland will face until the draw is made on the 12th December, but let's take a look at how we've previously performed against our fellow finalists.

SEEDING POT 1

France (hosts)
Pl
W
D
L
F
A
9
0
3
6
4
22

The Irish FA and French Football Federation have a long history. The teams first met in an amateur international in 1921, with Ireland triumphing 2-1 at the Parc des Princes. When they faced each other in a senior international at Buffalo in 1928 it was just the second time that Ireland faced a non-British or Commonwealth opponent. The 4-0 victory for the hosts has proved a reliable form guide for most of the meetings since, with Northern Ireland yet to record a win against our Gallic friends. Match-ups have included 4-0 and 4-1 defeats that saw Northern Ireland exit the 1958 and 1982 World Cup tournaments. In 1999, the most recent meeting between the sides saw the French bring the World Cup trophy to Windsor Park, and record a barely deserved 1-0 win.

Spain (holders)
Pl
W
D
L
F
A
18
2
5
11
11
38

When a Northern Ireland fan considers matches against Spain thoughts instantly turn to Gerry Armstrong in Valencia in 1982 and David Healy's 2006 hattrick at Windsor Park, the only two matches in which we recorded victories over the current European champions. While these games have been long engraved into GAWA-lore, there have been some comprehensive reverses. There was a 6-2 steam-rollering at the Bernabeu in 1958 on the occasion of our first meeting and a comprehensive 5-0 reverse in 2002 as an inexperienced Northern Ireland side suffered a chastening night at a rain-soaked Windsor Park. In 1986 we met again at the Mexico World Cup, but Spain were fairly comfortable 2-1 winners. Last time out, Spain recorded a low-key 1-0 win in Las Palmas in the final match of the Euro 2008 qualifying series as Northern Ireland's qualifying chances finally petered out at the hands of the eventual tournament winners.

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
14
2
4
8
13
32
includes matches against West Germany

It is actually near-impossible to pick a highlight of Northern Ireland's meetings against Germany. Could it be the Harry Gregg inspired 2-2 draw against the then World Champions in Sweden 1958 that kept our march to the quarter-finals going. What about Billy McAdams' 1960 hattrick at Windsor Park, though that match still ended in defeat. There were famous back-to-back 1-0 wins in Euro 84 qualifying followed by three successive 1-1 draws in 1992 and 1996 (twice) which straddled German World Cup and European Championship wins. Our last meeting was in a 2005 friendly at Windsor Park, arranged to celebrate the IFA's 125th anniversary, when ten-man Germany claimed a comfortable 4-1 win. Should we avoid each other in France, our next meetings will be in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
98
7
16
75
81
323

Our first ever and most frequent opponents, (Northern) Ireland's rivalry with England spans 133 years and nearly a century of games. It took us 31 years to first record a win against England, a 2-1 win at Windsor Park in 1913, but the 3-0 win a year later was even more significant as it aided Ireland to a first ever Home Nations title. Despite a couple of wins in the 1920s Northern Ireland weren't deemed worthy of appearing at Wembley until the mid-1950s, and on their second appearance there in 1957 recorded a famous 3-2 win. Later it was draws at Wembley that proved most significant, a 1-1 draw in 1980 aiding Northern Ireland to only their second British Championship and in November 1985 a scoreless match on a frozen pitch secured a place at Mexico 86. England have handed out many of Northern Ireland's most comprehensive defeats, but few will have any difficulty recalling the last time we met, when David Healy scored the only goal on a famous Windsor night.

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
13
2
7
4
13
14

Portugal have boasted some of the most gifted players ever to grace a football field; from Eusebio to Figo to Ronaldo, Northern Ireland's defenders have dealt with them all with some success over the years. The teams first faced each other in the qualifying series for the 1958 World Cup, with Northern Ireland coming out on top following a 1-1 draw and 3-0 win. Two draws in the 1974 World Cup qualifying campaign weren't good enough for either team to go through. Honours were even again during qualifying for the 1982 World Cup, with a 1-0 win each, though it was enough for Northern Ireland to claim a place in Spain. In the mid-90s the teams played each other in four qualifying matches, with Northern Ireland claiming two draws, but no victories. Most recently the teams went head-to-head in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup as Northern Ireland claimed a famous draw in Porto but lost out 2-4 in a real ding-dong match at Windsor Park.

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
3
2
0
1
6
2

The Belgian national team has at times been graced by some great players, while at other times they have suffered lengthy periods of mediocrity. This is perhaps proved out by the fact they are the only top seed against who Northern Ireland have recorded a positive record. Northern Ireland edged their meetings in the qualifying series  for the 1978 World Cup, recording a 3-0 win and a 0-2 defeat, though ultimately both teams were over-shadowed by Belgium's neighbours, the Netherlands. The most recent meeting between the teams was a friendly at Windsor Park in 1997 when Northern Ireland enjoyed a comprehensive 3-0 win, with a stunning James Quinn goal the highlight.

SEEDING POT 2

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
9
1
2
6
6
17

1968 European Champions, and three-times World Cup winners, Italy were edged into seeding pot two by Belgium. The Italians are giants of World football, and famously they have only failed to reach the World Cup Finals once, in 1958 when they lost out to Northern Ireland. The teams played three times in the space of less than a year in 1957-58, winning one each with a "feisty friendly" draw in the middle - it was results in the other group games against Portugal that saw Northern Ireland through. It would be over fifty years before the teams faced each other again in competitive match, but in the meantime they played out four friendlies with the Italians victorious on each occasion. They were finally drawn together again for the Euro 2012 qualifiers. The first match at Windsor Park was drawn 0-0, but Northern Ireland could consider themselves unlucky not to win with a couple of great goalscoring chances un-converted. The return match was the last of the campaign as a by-then demoralised Northern Ireland played out a 3-0 defeat in Nigel Worthington's final game as manager.

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
6
1
2
3
2
6
includes matches against the USSR

The Soviet Union were the first European Nations Cup winners back in 1960 and a decade later Northern Ireland faced them four times in quick succession in qualifiers for the 1970 World Cup and 1972 European Championships. The key game in this era was the October 1969 visit to Moscow were a win would have seen Northern Ireland qualify for Mexico - even a draw would have necessitated a play-off between the two teams. A Northern Ireland side robbed of George Best slumped to a 2-0 defeat. There would be over 40 years between Northern Ireland visits to Moscow when they were finally drawn in the same group as Russia for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. The Russians won comfortably at home, before twice travelling to Belfast. The first match was called off due to snow, but in the re-arranged fixture a Martin Paterson goal gave Michael O'Neill his first win as Northern Ireland manager.

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
4
2
1
1
3
2

Switzerland and Northern Ireland first met at international level in the qualifiers for the 1966 World Cup. Honours were even as each team won a game each, but it was the Swiss that travelled to England courtesy of other wins. The two sides have since avoided each other in competitive fixtures, but have met twice in friendlies. In 1998 a Darren Patterson winner at Windsor Park continued Lawrie McMenemy's bright start as Northern Ireland boss, and in 2004 the teams played out a low-key 0-0 draw in Zurich.

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
9
4
3
2
17
15

Espana 82 witnessed the first ever match-up between Austria and Northern Ireland when two Billy Hamilton goals earned a 2-2 second phase draw, and who can forget the big man wheeling, arms flailing in celebration. They matched-up again just a few months later in the Euro 1984 qualifiers and honours were again even with one win apiece, the latter match witnessing Pat Jennings' 100th Northern Ireland appearance. The pick of the four matches during the 1990s was a 5-3 Northern Ireland win at a rain sodden Windsor Park. More recently a tumultuous 3-3 draw at Windsor Park in 2004 witnessed a stunning David Healy goal and last-minute equaliser from Stuart Elliott while the return in Vienna a year later saw Damien Johnson red-carded during a 2-0 defeat.

Croatia
Pl
W
D
L
F
A
0
0
0
0
0
0

To date Northern Ireland and Croatia have never faced each other in a senior international. Our Women's side have faced them four times, winning three and losing once. There have also been meetings at of the mens' teams at Under-19 and Under-17 level.

Prior to the early-90s Croatia had been a constituent part of Yugoslavia, who Northern Ireland played eight times (seven before Croatia gained independence), with the most notable matches in 1975 when international football returned to Belfast after a three year absence and in the opening match of Espana 82.

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
4
0
2
2
1
3

The Ukrainian side that defeated Northern Ireland home and away during the qualifiers for the 1998 World Cup were an unknown quantity and the results were considered fairly disastrous from a Northern Ireland prespective. The Ukraine national team was still young at the time, and names such as Andrei Shevchenko and Sergei Rebrov were virtually unknown on these shores. By the time the two sides were drawn together again, in the qualifiers for Euro 2004, Ukraine were recognised as among the more competitive sides in Europe and the two scoreless draws attained by Northern Ireland were rare highlights in what was an otherwise disastrous campaign.

SEEDING POT 3

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
6
2
2
2
4
5
includes matches against Czechoslovakia

When Northern Ireland were drawn together with Czechoslovakia in Group A at the 1958 World Cup Finals it was the first time that they had faced Eastern European opposition. A 1-0 win in the opening match was followed up by a 2-1 extra-time play-off win after the two sides finished level on points. When Czechoslovakia broke up in the early-1990s the Czech Republic were designated as its successor and Northern Ireland faced this new team for the first time in the qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup and the Czechs won both of these matches, 1-0 and 3-1. There were no goals in the two matches between the two sides in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers as both teams ultimately suffered frustrating campaigns.

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
7
3
1
3
10
7

Traditionally the strongest of the Scandinavian footballing nations, Sweden have achieved medal positions at three World Cups. They first faced Northern Ireland in 1974 when we recorded an impressive 2-0 win at the Rasunda during the 1976 European Championship qualifiers. It was the visitors who were victors in the return at Windsor Park, the 2-1 defeat knocking the stuffing out of what had been up to that point a sturdy qualifying push by Northern Ireland. In 1980 Sweden again visited Belfast for a game that doubled as the Irish FA's Centenary celebration and a qualifier for Espana 82. Northern Ireland's 3-0 win set them on the right track for a qualification success, that wasn't even derailed by a 1-0 defeat in Solna. The next competitive meetings between the two sides were in 2007 when a David Healy inspired Northern Ireland triumphed 2-1 at Windsor Park before an impressive Kyle Lafferty goal earned a 1-1 draw at the Rasunda. Sweden ultimately finished above Northern Ireland in the Euro 2008 qualification table, and the fact that Northern Ireland appeared to settle for the draw is of great frustration to many fans.

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
9
4
2
3
13
13

Northern Ireland's rivalry with Poland got off to a fairly routine start with a 4-0 aggregate win in the preliminary round of the 1964 European Nations Cup. Thereafter there were three friendlies, with the most interesting a 4-1 reverse in Cyprus that witnessed a Steve Lomas goal that proved to be Northern Ireland's last for two years. The teams were drawn together in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers and an optimistic GAWA were left devastated by a 3-0 defeat in the opening match of the campaign. They met again in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers with the highlight a howler from Polish keeper Artur Boruc at Windsor Park as Northern Ireland gained a 3-2 win.

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
6
3
1
2
6
6

Northern Ireland first faced Rumania in a B international in 1957, cruising to a 6-0 win. They next faced each other in 1986 World Cup qualifiers, Northern Ireland recording 3-2 and 1-0 wins over a very strong Romanian side as they secured successive World Cup Finals places. In 1994 Romania travelled to Belfast for a friendly in Bryan Hamilton's first match as manager and were defeated 2-0, a result made all the more impressive by the Romanian's strong performance in that year's World Cup. Of course, Romania were in Northern Ireland's group for the Euro 2016 qualifiers, and actually enjoyed the upper hand over the two games with a win and a draw, though that didn't stop us topping the group.

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
3
1
0
2
2
4

When Northern Ireland defeated Slovakia in a 1998 friendly it looked to be a promising start for what was ultimately a disappointing managerial spell from Lawrie McMenemy. It was a full decade before the two teams faced each other in a competitive fixture, when drawn together in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers. Slovakia achieved double wins, with a 2-0 win at Windsor Park all-but killing off Northern Ireland's qualifying hopes on a bitterly disappointing evening.

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
6
1
1
4
4
8

Until the most recent qualifying campaign Northern Ireland's record against Hungary was dismal, four defeats in four matches. Their first match was a 1-0 defeat in Budapest in 1988, with the following year's return, a 2-1 loss, killing off any hopes of Northern Ireland travelling to Italia 90. In the 2000s Hungary enjoyed a couple of routine friendly wins in Belfast. It was their performance to come back from a goal down to record a 2-1 win in Budapest that got Northern Ireland's successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign off to the perfect start. The last minute equaliser from Kyle Lafferty in Belfast put Northern Ireland in pole position for the final glorious push.

SEEDING POT 4
Northern Ireland can't face the other teams in pot four until (!) they progress beyond the group stages.

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
12
5
2
5
12
12

Even pre-1990s when Turkey were one of Europe's whipping boys, Northern Ireland's record against them was slightly dodgy. Certainly we cruised past them in two matches in 1968, but a 1-0 defeat in Ankara in 1983 was a result that ultimately cost us a place at Euro 84. We did enough against them, claiming a win and a draw, to qualify for Mexico 86. By the late-90s Turkey were a highly respected side and Northern Ireland were in a serious slump so two 3-0 defeats were as expected. More recently we've suffered two further defeats in friendlies, with one oddity being a 2-0 reverse in Connecticut.

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
10
2
4
4
4
17

Our relationship with our nearest neighbours has been strained from the day the FAI broke away from the Irish FA in 1921. North and South managed to avoid playing each other in a senior international until 1978 when we visited Lansdowne Road for the first time since 1900, when it had been a home venue, and recorded a 0-0 draw. We claimed a first victory when a Gerry Armstrong scored the only goal at Windsor Park in 1979. Through the late-80s and 90s the Republic's performances on the world stage gained great attention, and they recorded significant wins over us in qualifying for the 1990 and 1994 World Cups. The most embarrassing defeat arrived when they visited Windsor Park in November 1994 and claimed an easy 4-0 win. Northern Ireland recorded their first win in Dublin in 1999 when Danny Griffin scored the only goal in a fundraiser for the victims of the Omagh bomb. Our most recent meeting came in the ill-fated Carling Nations Cup when an inexperienced Northern Ireland side were crushed 5-0.

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
6
2
0
4
6
7

Iceland have qualified for their first major championships, so becoming the smallest country ever to reach the European Championships. For many years they were one of world football's true minnows, but they've always held something of an Indian sign over Northern Ireland. Our first meeting, in 1977, resulted in a 1-0 win for Iceland in Reykjavik, though a measure of honour was restored when we won the return in Belfast 2-0. In 2000 we visited Reykjavik again to be defeated 1-0 due to a late fumble by Roy Carroll, though again we claimed a home win, this time 3-0. The most costly results came in the Euro 2008 qualifiers when Iceland did the double over us as we produced very flat performances in 3-0 and 2-1 defeats which were Iceland's only wins in the tournament.

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
94
27
23
44
131
189

Our second oldest rivals, we first met Wales in 1882 when they defeated us 7-1 in Wrexham. For the next century the two of us generally battled it out to avoid the wooden spoon in the Home Nations Championship, while very occasionally raising ourselves to defeat our more powerful neighbours, England and Scotland. In 1930 we recorded our biggest ever victory when Joe Bambrick scored a double-hattrick in a 7-0 win at Windsor Park. Since the Home Nations series was cancelled in 1984 we have met four times, most recently in 2011 at the Carling Nations Cup when Wales triumphed 2-0 in front of a paltry 529 crowd.

Pl
W
D
L
F
A
9
5
2
2
13
5

Albania are another one of Europe's supposed minnows that have raised their game to qualify for a first major tournement, they could also be considered Northern Ireland's ultimate bogey team. We first met in the 1966 World Cup qualifiers, and it was a 1-1 draw in Tirana in the final match of the campaign that cost us a place at the finals in England. Had a 0-0 draw in a European qualifier in 1983 been won, we would have finished above West Germany and travelled to the finals in France. In 1997, when Albania were forced to play their games away from home due to civil unrest in the country, we travelled to Zurich to be defeated 1-0, a result which ultimately cost Bryan Hamilton his job. Our most recent match was in 2010, when Albania recorded another 1-0 win in a friendly in Tirana.

Northern Ireland
According to the UEFA National Team Coefficient, we are the lowest ranked side to have qualified, and the smallest ever nation to have topped a qualifying group. So how will we get on in our first trip to the Euros ...

Northern Ireland's Ultimate Group
Based on historical their head-to-head record, Northern Ireland might be hoping for a group that looks a bit like this come the draw on 12th December.

Teams
Pts %
Belgium
66.7%
Switzerland
58.3%
Romania
55.6%
Northern Ireland
-


Northern Ireland's Nightmare Group
If the draw all goes wrong though the group might look something like this...

Teams
Pts %
France
11.1%
Ukraine
16.7%
Hungary
22.2%
Northern Ireland
-

... but as highlighted above, teams' relative strengths can fluctuate wildly, and it will be up to the Northern Ireland eleven that takes the field to tear up the form and history books.

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