6 Incredible Euros Debuts that Give North Macedonia and Finland Hope

Gareth Bale Wales

Sweden at the 1992 finals

After no previous appearances in the tournament, the Swedes qualified as they were hosts of the competition back in 1992. They would qualify top of their group by overcoming France, England and eventual winners Denmark, most notably by beating England 2-1 thanks to a late Tomas Brolin goal which knocked them out.

Due to the smaller version of the tournament, Sweden qualified for the semi-finals where they would then lose 3-2 to finalists Germany. The biggest surprise that year, of course, came from Denmark, who beat favourites Germany in the final, but nevertheless, this debut from Sweden was incredibly memorable and gets overlooked because of the Danes' triumph.

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Croatia at the 1996 finals

Way before Croatia were making it to World Cup finals and having one of their own win the Ballon d'Or, the country were competing as Yugoslavia until 1992 and it wasn't until 1996 that we witnessed them as an independent nation at a major finals.

Croatia qualified for Euro 1996 in England with some stars such as Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinecki, Robert Jarni and the Premier League household name, Slaven Bilic, all in attendance for the debutants. These players gave them a slight chance, but in a group of defending champions Denmark and a Luis Figo-inspired Portugal, Croatia were tipped to battle it out with Turkey for a third-place finish in Group D.

The debutants would finish second, however, beating Turkey on their opening day, before smashing the defending champions 3-0 to secure qualification. Croatia did fall to a 3-0 defeat to Portugal in the final game, meaning they met with eventual champions Germany in the next round, who beat them 2-1.

Nevertheless, for a debuting nation to reach the last eight, Croatia returned home as heroes.

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The Czech Republic at the 1996 finals

The Czech Republic competed as Czechoslovakia from 1960-1992 as the fall of the Velvet Revolution in 1989 forced Czechoslovakia to split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic in 1993. Within that period, Czechoslovakia actually won the tournament in 1970 and when it came to Euro 1996, the Czech Republic were competing alone, as Slovakia didn't qualify for the finals until 2016.

So whilst the country, technically speaking, has competed and actually won the Euros, they entered Euro 1996 as a sole nation and stunned the continent when they made it all the way to the final.

What made this all the more impressive is how the Czech Republic really could have won this final as a debutant, as Oliver Bierhoff scored the all-important golden goal in extra time to give the Germans the Euro 1996 title. So, if we consider the Czechs as a sole nation, this is the most impressive debut at a Euros in modern history, considering countries like Russia, Italy and Spain all won the tournament as debutants in the 1960s and early 70s, back when things were very different.

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Northern Ireland at the 2016 finals

Northern Ireland reached the tournament after qualifying top of their qualifying group which contained Hungary, Romania, and Greece, which in itself was a tough ask for them and to make matters worse, they were drawn against Germany, Poland, and Ukraine at Euro 2016.

After two close losses to Germany and Poland, Northern Ireland would beat Ukraine 2-0 thanks to goals from Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn to secure third place and eventually secure a place as one of the best third-placed teams, meaning Northern Ireland qualified by the barest of margins.

They then met with Wales in the round of 16 and after a tight affair in Paris, the Irish would lose due to a McAuley own goal to knock them out of the tournament. However, given that they qualified by the skin of their teeth in both qualification and the Euro 2016 group itself, this remains a story for Northern Irish folklore.

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Iceland at the Euro 2016 finals

Arguably the biggest shock since Denmark's triumph in 1992, Iceland made it to the last eight in 2016 and stunned all of football.

After finishing second in their qualifying group ahead of Turkey and the Netherlands, Iceland would end up in a group containing Hungary, Portugal, and Austria and the fact Iceland finished second here was a shock of its own, but it was in the next round where they caused the biggest upset.

Against an England team who had struggled in the group, Iceland were expected to be knocked out and it looked to be going that way as they conceded a fourth-minute penalty to Wayne Rooney, but they were able to bounce back two minutes later thanks to Ragnar Sigurdsson. Then, 12 minutes later, Kolbein Sigborsson would score to give Iceland the lead, and see the game out against the former world champions.

Iceland were demolished against eventual finalists France in the quarters, but considering this country of less than half a million people wasn't even expected to qualify, getting into the knockout rounds and beating England is one of football's most famous stories.


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Wales at the 2016 finals

Sticking with the 2016 edition once more, where Wales stunned the world in their debut at the competition.

Wales ended up in a group with England, Slovakia, and Russia and the Welsh would end up qualifying first in this group after wins against Slovakia due to goals from Gareth Bale and Hal Robson Kanu and Russia after Aaron Ramsey, Neil Taylor and Bale all netted.

In their round of 16 tie against Northern Ireland, a Gareth McAuley own goal secured Wales' passage and set them up against Belgium, for which they were massive underdogs. After going 1-0 down due to a long-range effort by Radja Nainggolan, Wales would mount a comeback.

First, an Ashley Williams header would equalise for Wales, before Robson-Kanu would score a memorable goal to give Wales the lead and a Sam Vokes header sealed the deal soon after.

They'd lose 2-0 to eventual winners, Portugal, however, but this doesn't stop this from being arguably the most impressive debut at a European Championships in modern history, given how Wales were seen as the continent's punching bag.

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