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How 3 former European Championship winners failed to qualify for Euro 2016

Expanding the tournament from 16 to 24 teams hasn’t worked out for everyone.

IT’S SOMEWHAT IRONIC that in a European Championships which was expanded in order to cater for more teams, three of the nine countries to have won the tournament previously have failed to make the final cut.

With 23 places on offer to 53 sides to join hosts France at Euro 2016 — which begins on Friday — qualification for the tournament has never been more achievable. Five teams — Albania, Iceland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Slovakia — have all qualified for the first time, although the latter duo would also have been guaranteed qualification under the previous format due to their status as a group winner and the best second-placed team respectively.

Nevertheless, three former champion nations will have the next month off as 24 teams aim to make the final, which takes place at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis on 10 July.

Netherlands

Soccer - 1988 European Championships - Holland v USSR - Final Netherlands captain Ruud Gullit lifts the trophy following their victory in 1988. Source: EMPICS Sport

Undoubtedly the most notable absentee from the next five weeks of action in France, only two years have passed since the Netherlands finished third at the World Cup. They’re generally among the favourites to win major tournaments, let alone qualify, but there will be no repeat this summer of their success at Euro 88, which was spearheaded by the likes of Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard.

The current crop that’s available to manager Danny Blind may not match the calibre of those icons, but players like Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder would still have been expected to ensure that the Dutch emerged from a group that included Czech Republic, Turkey, Iceland, Kazakhstan and Latvia.

Things got off to an ominous start, with an unconvincing 3-1 home victory over Kazakhstan sandwiched between a pair of away defeats to Czech Republic and Iceland. They got back on track with two easy wins against Latvia and a draw with Turkey, in which Klaas Jan Huntelaar scored an injury-time equaliser, but the Netherlands would win just once more — against Kazakhstan — for the remainder of their Group A campaign.

Iceland turned them over in Amsterdam thanks to a penalty from Gylfi Sigurdsson, before Blind’s side lost 3-0 away to Turkey. The 2010 World Cup runners-up stumbled to a 2-1 win away to the Kazakhs which gave them a slim chance of qualification entering the final round of games, but a 3-2 home defeat to the Czechs — coupled with Turkey’s win against Iceland — consigned them to fourth place and an extended summer holiday.

Euro 2016 will be the first major tournament the Netherlands have missed since Ireland helped to deny them a place at the 2002 World Cup. It’s also the first time they’ve failed to make the Euros since 1984, when the tournament was also staged in France.

Denmark

Soccer - European Championships - Final - Germany v Denmark - Ullevi, Gothenburg Peter Schmeichel gets his hands on the trophy after Denmark's 1992 triumph. Source: EMPICS Sport

For the second time since they caused a major upset by winning the tournament in 1992, Denmark won’t feature at this summer’s European Championships, having also failed to make it to Austria/Switzerland eight years ago. Despite not officially qualifying for Euro 92 in Sweden, the Danes were drafted in as a replacement for Yugoslavia just 10 days before the tournament started, due to the dissolution of the Balkan state.

With world-class players like Brian Laudrup and Peter Schmeichel to the fore, the Danes engineered a major shock by overcoming the likes of France, the Netherlands and Germany en route to becoming European champions. Since then, however, they’ve qualified for the Euros on four occasions but have made it out of the group stages just once.

At the end of their qualifying campaign for Euro 2016, Denmark secured a play-off spot after finishing third in Group I, behind Portugal and Albania, but ahead of Serbia and Armenia. Draws with Albania (twice) and Armenia, as well as a home defeat to Portugal following Cristiano Ronaldo’s winner in the fifth minute of injury time, ultimately cost them automatic qualification.

Morten Olsen’s side had to settle for a play-off but their hopes of sealing a spot in France were ended by Zlatan Ibrahimovic — or Sweden, as he’s referred to at international level. The former Paris Saint-Germain star netted three times as the Swedes overcame Kasper Schmeichel, Daniel Agger, Christian Eriksen, Nicklas Bendtner and co. on an aggregate score of 4-3, after which Olsen stepped down and was replaced by Åge Hareide.

Greece

WCUP WORLD CUP SOCCER FIFA GREECE SUSPENDED Greece were surprise winners in 2004. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Denmark’s status as the most unlikely winners of the Euros only lasted 12 years. Without any big-name stars in their squad, Greece — who entered the tournament as 150/1 outsiders — saw off hosts Portugal (twice), holders France and Czech Republic to win Euro 2004 under the guidance of Otto Rehhagel.

As defending champions, they were eliminated at the group stages in 2008 and in the quarter-finals four years ago. They won’t be among the 24 teams competing in this summer’s tournament in France, however, following a dismal qualifying campaign which yielded just one win from 10 games, culminating in a bottom-placed finished in Group F.

Given that he just steered Leicester City to a remarkable Premier League title, it’s easy to forget that Claudio Ranieri presided over 40% of the Greeks’ failure to reach Euro 2016. After home defeats to Faroe Islands, Northern Ireland and Romania, as well as a draw with Finland, Ranieri was sacked just four months into the job.

But things didn’t get much better for the 2004 winners after the Italian’s departure. Sergio Markarian took charge and oversaw further defeats to the Faroes, Finland and Northern Ireland. Greece finally tasted victory in the last round of games, beating Hungary 4-3 at home to end a 12-match winless run for a side that includes Borussia Dortmund’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Roma’s Vasilis Torosidis.

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