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The best ever EURO play-off ties

With the play-offs almost upon us, UEFA.com takes the opportunity to look back on some of the outstanding ties since this stage of the competition started in 1995.

Portugal celebrate overcoming Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2011
Portugal celebrate overcoming Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2011 ©Fedja Krvavac

With eight more teams set to play out four potentially thrilling play-offs from Thursday, UEFA.com takes the opportunity to delve into the history books to pick out five of the the best ties since the introduction of this stage ahead of EURO '96. 

1995: Ireland 0-2 Netherlands
The first ever play-off was needed to decide which side would make the last spot in the finals in England, and the host country was the setting for the one-legged affair between qualifying's two lowest-scoring second-placed teams. Liverpool's Anfield was the venue – a city just a short hop across the Irish Sea and with historic links to the Emerald Isle.

Coaches Guus Hiddink and Jack Charlton watch on
Coaches Guus Hiddink and Jack Charlton watch on©Getty Images

It was the Dutch contingent who had everything to cheer, however, as Guus Hiddink's men ran out winners thanks to a pair of classy goals by 19-year-old Patrick Kluivert, the second a delightful chip. "Clarence Seedorf ran the show, he was tremendous," remembered Ireland's John Aldridge. Things ended sadly for Seedorf in the finals, though, as his missed penalty in the shoot-out against France proved decisive in the quarter-finals.

1999: Slovenia 3-2 Ukraine
For the 2000 edition, the play-offs had expanded to four two-legged ties, Slovenia's ousting of a quality Ukraine side the pick. The former Yugoslav nation made it to a first ever major finals despite being down in both legs, Andriy Shevchenko putting the visitors – who would end with nine men – ahead in Ljubljana before Zlatko Zahovič and substitute Milenko Ačimovič stole a narrow lead.

Slovenia's Miran Pavlin in action against Ukraine
Slovenia's Miran Pavlin in action against Ukraine©Getty Images

Serhiy Rebrov put Ukraine ahead again from the penalty spot in the return before Miran Pavlin struck 12 minutes from time to earn Slovenia a draw in blizzard conditions in Kyiv – the white ball invisible to television viewers as the snow piled up on the pitch though the celebrations were clearly visible. "We are all heroes now," beamed winning coach Srečko Katanec.

1999: Scotland 1-2 England
Home advantage proved anything but for the British neighbours as both lost on their own turf. Kevin Keegan's Three Lions looked to be cruising to the Netherlands and Belgium after Paul Scholes scored both in the 2-0 first-leg win at Hampden Park. "He's got everything, he's the most wonderfully gifted player," said Keegan. "We played fantastic."

Paul Scholes scores against Scotland at Hampden Park
Paul Scholes scores against Scotland at Hampden Park©Getty Images

It was the Scots who were fantastic in the second leg, however, Don Hutchinson's 38th-minute header setting up a fantastic finale but England scraped through despite not having a shot on goal at Wembley. "We deserved more than one goal," said Scotland boss Craig Brown as Scotland missed the first of what is now nine successive major tournaments.

2003: Latvia 3-2 Turkey
Turkey had made it to the 2002 FIFA World Cup semi-finals and missed out on winning qualifying Group 7 by a single point to England, so nobody had much hope for Latvia who were seeking a first major finals place. Those people had not factored in the fighting spirit in Aleksandrs Starkovs squad and Māris Verpakovskis gave them a 1-0 first-leg win in Riga. Normal service looked to have resumed in Istanbul four days later when Hakan Şükür's 64th-minute goal had given Turkey a 2-0 lead on the night and 2-1 aggregate lead.

Latvia celebrate in Istanbul
Latvia celebrate in Istanbul©Getty Images

However, one minute later Juris Laizāns' free-kick snuck through a mass of bodies to find the net and then Verpakovskis latched on to a long clearance from goalkeeper Aleksandrs Koļinko to run through and secure the historic win. "We've created a sensation in Europe," said victorious coach Aleksandrs Starkovs. "This is the greatest achievement in Latvian football history," added delighted Latvian Football Federation (LFF) president Guntis Indriksons.

2011: Portugal 6-2 Bosnia and Herzegovina
Only a 78th-minute Samir Nasri penalty in Paris in Group D's final game prevented Bosnia and Herzegiovina qualifying automatically for a first finals, so the Dragons had plenty of reason to be positive when drawn against Portugal. Indeed only a late pair of misses from Vedad Ibišević prevented them winning the first leg in Zenica.

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates in the second leg
Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates in the second leg©Getty Images

There were no such close calls in the return in Lisbon as the Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired hosts blew away Safet Sušić's side. The Real Madrid man scored two while Hélder Postiga added another pair as Portugal proved too good before a run to the semi-finals and a shoot-out loss to eventual winners Spain. "It's a special victory, we all have to be congratulated for this," said another scorer, Nani. "The Portuguese people deserve this."