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Eight stalwarts of EURO qualifying

Published: Wednesday 12 February 2014, 12.45CET
Armenia's Sargis Hovsepyan heads an elite band of players to have figured in more UEFA European Championship qualifiers than anyone else. We pay tribute to him and seven others.
Eight stalwarts of EURO qualifying
Robbie Keane has figured in five UEFA European Championship qualifying campaigns ©AFP/Getty Images
 
Published: Wednesday 12 February 2014, 12.45CET

Eight stalwarts of EURO qualifying

Armenia's Sargis Hovsepyan heads an elite band of players to have figured in more UEFA European Championship qualifiers than anyone else. We pay tribute to him and seven others.

Ahead of the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying draw on 23 February, UEFA.com salutes eight stalwarts who have trodden this strenuous path more than anyone else.

Sargis Hovsepyan (Armenia)
1992–2012, five campaigns, 47 matches

The defender was destined for a long and industrious national-team career from the moment he debuted aged 19 in a goalless draw with Moldova on 14 October 1992. The former FC Zenit and FC Pyunik player went on to make an Armenian record 131 appearances, leading the side for over a decade. Recognised as his nation's finest player on three occasions, Hovsepyan bowed out of international football after a 2012 friendly win against Lithuania in Yerevan, a month before his 40th birthday. "I am proud to have been part of the national team. I'm sure the current side will make us very happy by qualifying for EURO 2016," he said.

Mario Frick (Liechtenstein)
1993–, five campaigns, 42 matches 

No player has made his mark on the game in the 'Ländle' (little country) like Frick. Indeed, it was his strike that helped Liechtenstein beat Latvia in a UEFA EURO 2008 qualifier – the first time they had overcome opponents with major international tournament experience. Then there was the 2-1 friendly defeat by Austria in 2006, a game regarded as one of Frick's best in the national shirt. Even after 21 years of dedicated service, 112 caps and 16 goals, the 39-year-old has not lost his appetite as he prepares for 2016 qualifying.

©Getty Images

Vitālijs Astafjevs (Latvia)
1992–2010, five campaigns, 40 matches 
Little did the midfielder know that, after making his debut against Denmark in a FIFA World Cup qualifier in 1992, he would go on to become Europe's most-capped international footballer of all time with 167 appearances. The one-time Skonto FC trainee played abroad with FK Austria Wien, Bristol Rovers FC, VfB Admira Wacker Mödling and FC Rubin Kazan, but his personal pinnacle came when Latvia pipped Turkey in a play-off to qualify for UEFA EURO 2004 in Portugal. ''It was unforgettable,'' he said. ''We worked a miracle, everyone was amazed. That was true happiness.''

Jari Litmanen (Finland)
1989–2010, six campaigns, 38 matches
A prodigious talent, Litmanen skippered his nation for 12 years and pulled on the Finland jersey in four different decades, accumulating 137 caps and 32 goals. The former AFC Ajax playmaker, who won the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Cup, made his final mark on international football in November 2010, becoming the oldest player to score in European qualifying. He did so in typically ice-cool fashion, converting a penalty in his farewell game against San Marino. ''I have always represented Finland with pride on and off the field,'' he said of his contribution.

Carmel Busuttil (Malta)
1982–2001, four campaigns, 35 matches
Busuttil received international recognition for the first time in a UEFA European Championship qualifier against Iceland on 5 June 1982, a time he recalls with great fondness. ''Just imagine hearing from coach Victor Scerri that I was starting at only 18 years of age! I still cherish that match,'' he told UEFA.com. The former KRC Genk midfielder was the first Maltese international to earn 100 caps and in all represented his country 113 times between 1982 and 2001, hitting 23 goals. He was also voted Malta's most outstanding player of the past 50 years as part of UEFA's Jubilee celebrations in 2004.

Robbie Keane (Republic of Ireland)
1998–, four campaigns, 35 matches
The effervescent striker was just 17 when selected by the Boys in Green for the first time, and opened his account later that year, finding the target twice against Malta. Keane's fame spread worldwide when he netted three times in Ireland's run to the 2002 World Cup round of 16, eight years before completing his 100th fixture against Argentina. On the European stage, the LA Galaxy No7 became the first Irish player to notch more than 50 national-team goals as his side took their place at UEFA EURO 2012. Not content with his lot, Keane broke Shay Given's record of 125 outings at home to the Faroe Islands last June – and struck a hat-trick in the same game.

Mart Poom (Estonia)
1992–2009, four campaigns, 35 matches

The former Derby County FC and Sunderland AFC goalkeeper was given a harsh introduction to international football, leaking two Davor Šuker goals in Estonia's maiden UEFA European Championship qualifier on 4 September 1994. Poom soon matured, though, proceeding to captain his nation and amass 120 caps before hanging up his boots in 2009. He was honoured as Estonia's best player of the last 50 years by the Estonian Football Association (EJL) in 2004.

Jeff Strasser (Luxembourg)
1993–2010, five campaigns, 35 matches
During his international odyssey, the once VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach centre-back turned out for Luxembourg 98 times, captaining his side to a stunning 1-0 victory against the Czech Republic in EURO '96 qualification. A scorer of seven national-team goals, Strasser signed off with a 2-0 loss to France on 12 October 2010 – exactly 17 years after making his bow against Greece.

Last updated: 17/02/14 20.20CET

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