The best of UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying

Robert Lewandowski, Albania, San Marino, Iceland, İlkay Gündoğan, Arda Turan and Sebastian Mila's ankle bruise star in our pick of the best of EURO qualifying.

There were 260 UEFA EURO 2016 qualifiers and you can watch highlights of them all.

Player: Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
Coming into the last set of qualifiers this month, Lewandowski was on a decent run of 12 goals in four Bayern München matches. Already the top scorer in qualifying, with ten, he then struck twice, including a last-gasp equaliser, in the 2-2 draw in Scotland. The winner – a superb long-range header – followed in the 2-1 defeat of the Republic of Ireland, a result which booked Poland's place in France.

Lewandowski equals record
Lewandowski equals record

That was his 13th goal in qualifying, equalling the single-campaign record set by Northern Ireland's David Healy ahead of UEFA EURO 2008. Lewandowski had two fewer matches in which to set the mark. Poland were the 33-goal top scorers in qualifying, Arkadiusz Milik contributing six as well as the joint-most assists across the nine groups. All six of his contributions resulted in goals for Lewandowski. Coach Adam Nawalka said: "Robert gave this team a glow, but all were prominent, every cell functioned."

Albania's historic night
Albania's historic night

Team: Albania
The expanded 24-team finals will contain several nations that have never before reached a UEFA EURO. But while Wales, Northern Ireland and Slovakia have all been to FIFA World Cups, and Iceland at least made the play-offs for that in 2013, Albania's feat is pretty much unprecedented.

Before this campaign, Albania's sole UEFA final tournaments had been the 1982 Under-18 and 1995 U16 Championship. But from their opening win in Portugal they seldom looked back, even if their qualification was delayed until this week's 3-0 win in Armenia. They started the tournament ranked 41st by UEFA (lower even than Pot 5 colleagues Iceland and Northern Ireland). "When I said Albania could do it, they laughed at me," said coach Giovanni de Biasi.

Personal best: San Marino
San Marino were not quite able to upset the odds and book a place in France, but they too managed their best-ever campaign. Admittedly that was because they picked up one point, but the 0-0 draw with Estonia last November ended a run of losing their first 58 UEFA EURO qualifiers. It was only their fourth-ever clean sheet and captain Andy Selva said: "We searched for this result for years and now we found it."

Iceland stun Netherlands
Iceland stun Netherlands

Result: Netherlands 0-1 Iceland
Surprise results are not rare early in qualifying campaigns, as teams regroup after retirements and final tournaments. Still, Iceland beating FIFA World Cup bronze-medallists the Netherlands last October, off the back of defeats of Turkey and Latvia, was impressive.

But a Group A table with Iceland clear of the Oranje had an air of unreality about it until they were rematched in Amsterdam last month. Gylfi Sigurdsson's 51st-minute penalty gave Iceland victory, a result which went a long way to clinching their debut qualification and denying the Oranje a place at the finals for the first time since 1984. "We just kept defending," Sigurdsson told UEFA.com. "I had a feeling we would get a penalty so I picked a corner yesterday and thankfully it was right."

Scotland thwarted by Germany
Scotland thwarted by Germany

Goal: İlkay Gündoğan (Germany)
Scotland proved a tough nut for Germany to crack in September, the world champions twice having leads cancelled out before half-time. But early in the second half the scorer of both of Germany's opening goals, Thomas Müller, was sent clear by Emre Can. The Bayern München man produced a stunning passing exchange with Gündoğan, who then shot in to secure a 3-2 triumph that proved crucial in taking Germany to the finals and eliminating Scotland.

Honorable mention: Gibraltar
UEFA's 54th members were always going to find their first qualifying campaign tough, but ten defeats and 56 goals conceded do not tell the whole story. The most memorable moment came 19 minutes into their game in Scotland in March. Having just fallen behind, Gibraltar equalised when Lee Casciaro finished off a swift breakaway for their first senior competitive goal.

"It was just a dream come true for me to score that goal," he said. "It's unimaginable to get the first competitive goal for Gibraltar." Casciaro had also scored in Gibraltar's first competitive victory of any sort, a 7-5 UEFA Futsal EURO qualifying defeat of San Marino in 2014, while brother Kyle's goal helped Gibraltar to a 1-0 friendly win against Malta later that year.

Spain streak ends
Spain streak ends

Number: 36
Spain will go for a third straight European title in France having already become the first team to win two in a row in 2012. But one streak was ended last October when an 87th-minute goal by Miroslav Stoch gave Slovakia a 2-1 win that was the first qualifying defeat inflicted on Spain for 36 matches, a run that had lasted eight years. Juraj Kucka, Slovakia midfielder, said: "Our will, heart and fighting spirit decided the game."

Quote: "I have a bruise on my ankle, but I don't remember who kicked me. When you beat the world champions, you don't feel pain."
Sebastian Mila, who put Poland 2-0 up against Germany as a substitute in Group D, on helping clinch their first-ever win against the world champions.

Photo: Arda Turan celebrates Turkey's dramatic qualification

©AFP/Getty Images


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