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EURO stars, Nani's strike, finders and keepers

Published: Friday 18 November 2011, 15.30CET
The Republic of Ireland and Croatia shone in the UEFA EURO 2012 play-offs, while keepers also stole the limelight; step forward Iker Casillas, Petr Čech, Gianluigi Buffon and Stefanos Kapino.

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Published: Friday 18 November 2011, 15.30CET

EURO stars, Nani's strike, finders and keepers

The Republic of Ireland and Croatia shone in the UEFA EURO 2012 play-offs, while keepers also stole the limelight; step forward Iker Casillas, Petr Čech, Gianluigi Buffon and Stefanos Kapino.

Team: Republic of Ireland
Giovanni Trapattoni's side all but sealed their passage to UEFA EURO 2012 with a 4-0 defeat of Estonia in Tallinn on Friday before Tuesday's 1-1 draw in Dublin confirmed their first European Championship berth since 1988. "I know what this means to the country," said the Italian coach, who has lost just two qualifiers in 24 outings at the Ireland helm. "I am very proud for the players and our supporters. I know the Irish people wished for this and I am very happy we have achieved that dream for them." With Ireland placed in pot 4 for the 2 December draw, captain and leading marksman Robbie Keane added: "To captain the side and qualify for a major tournament in Dublin is probably my greatest moment in an Ireland shirt."

Player: Petr Čech (Czech Republic)
Čech was a doubt for the Czech Republic's play-off against Montenegro after breaking his nose playing for Chelsea FC last Saturday, but the goalkeeper's determination and custom-made face mask (which he admitted made him look like Batman) ensured he was able to play a pivotal role in their success. The Czech No1 kept two clean sheets and made some superb saves in Tuesday's second leg in Podgorica to help his nation reach their fifth successive EURO. "Petr Čech was fantastic, especially in the second leg," said Montenegro coach Branko Brnović. "We had at least five chances, but their goalkeeper was their saviour."

Goal: Nani (Portugal)
After a goalless first leg between Portugal and Bosnia and Herzegovina very few were predicting an eight-goal thriller in Tuesday's return. It took Paulo Bento's side just eight minutes to break the deadlock, though, as Cristiano Ronaldo rifled in a 30-metre free-kick but, not to be outdone, Nani unleashed an unstoppable strike into the top right-hand corner from a similar distance to send Portugal on their way to a 6-2 success and a place in Poland and Ukraine. "It was my best goal for the national team, there are no words to describe it," said the Manchester United FC midfielder. "It was an excellent shot, a great goal. It's a special victory, we all have to be congratulated for this result and for the great attitude that we had."

Performance: Turkey 0-3 Croatia
Perhaps the pick of the play-off ties, Croatia's trip to Turkey not only stirred memories of the classic quarter-final between the two nations at UEFA EURO 2008 but was "very hard to predict", according to Turkey coach Guus Hiddink, who stepped down after the second leg. How right he was. The tone was set by Ivica Olić's second-minute goal for the visitors and, after Mario Mandžukić doubled the lead, Vedran Ćorluka's second international strike sealed a historic victory. A goalless draw in the second leg was enough to avenge the memory of 2008. "We went through a huge amount of stress together but we made it," said Croatia coach Slaven Bilić, adding with a smile. "Now we are going to win EURO 2012, although we are aware that we can be eliminated at the group stage. The Croatia you saw against Turkey have a chance against anyone."

Milestone: Iker Casillas (Spain)
Spain captain Iker Casillas made history during his side's 2-2 friendly draw against Costa Rica on Tuesday, his 127th cap eclipsing Andoni Zubizarreta's mark as his country's all-time leading appearance holder. The 30-year-old Real Madrid CF goalkeeper said: "When I started out playing as a kid I never thought I would reach such figures but now that I have I'm obviously very happy." Another goalkeeper, Vyacheslav Malafeev, also reached a milestone this week as he extended his national record to 606 minutes without conceding an international goal in Russia's 1-1 draw with Greece (he had been substituted when the visitors replied late on).

Number: 112 (Gianluigi Buffon)
Having played his 111th Italy game on 11/11/11 in the 2-0 win in Poland on Friday, Gianluigi Buffon was proud that, despite suffering a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Uruguay in Tuesday's friendly, he moved on to the same cap total as legendary Azzurri No1 Dino Zoff. "It was only two or three years ago that I started to realise that I could really catch him," Buffon said. "But when I made my Italy debut back in 1997 it was just a dream for me. Too much water needed to pass under the bridge for me to reach that historic figure. Zoff is a real legend, I'm very proud to reach this milestone."

Young gloves: Stefanos Kapino (Greece)
If Buffon is in the autumn of his career, Stefanos Kapino is still in the spring of his. Yet at the tender age of 17 years and 243 days, the goalkeeper on Tuesday became the youngest player to appear for the Greek national team. Kapino, who broke the previous record set by legendary Panionios' and AEK Athens striker Thomas Mavros in 1972, has enjoyed a meteoric rise since the start of the season, when he was Panathinaikos FC's fourth-choice goalkeeper. Alexandros Tzorvas's move to US Città di Palermo, an injury to Stefanos Kotsolis and the third-minute dismissal of Orestis Karnezis against Atromitos FC on 17 September all conspired to give Kapino his chance, which he seized – if you will - with both hands. The veteran of five competitive matches made his international debut in the 3-1 defeat by Romania.

Honorary Scot
He may be a proud Englishman with 77 England caps and three World Cup finals appearances for the motherland to his name but Terry Butcher has become one of Scotland's adopted sons after being inducted into the Scottish Football Museum‘s Hall of Fame. The Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC manager was awarded the honour on Sunday in reconition of his ten years in Scotland as both player and manager. Butcher, who has been in charge of the Scottish Premier League side since 2009, first came to Scotland after signing for Rangers FC in 1986, making 127 appearances for the Ibrox club and winning three league titles and two Scottish League Cups in four years. Butcher spent a further four years as manager of Motherwell FC between 2002 and 2006 and also served as assistant manager to the Scottish national team under George Burley. The 52-year-old former defender captained England and helped Sir Bobby Robson's side reach the 1986 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals as well as the semi-finals of Italia '90.

It is rare these days for a footballer to stay at one club long enough to earn a testimonial. In the case of former midfielder Lauren, his seven years at Arsenal FC didn't even qualify him for a gold watch... or so he thought. As it turns out the Gunners have handed over a valuable timepiece to their former club servant – albeit one that used to be his in the first place. The 34-year-old was this week reunited with his Rolex Daytona after a police operation recovered numerous stolen items in searches of addresses in Essex and east London. When Rolex revealed the watch belonged to the retired Premier League player, Arsenal got in touch with the ex-Cameroonian international, who said he was "really pleased" to be reunited with his property. The Premier League club's own six-year search for silverware, however, remains ongoing.

Last updated: 06/12/13 5.59CET

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