Europe's forgotten countries come to the fore in next year's European Championships

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Football News

When Michel Platini first proposed and then finalised the idea for a 24-team tournament to be held at next year's European Championships in France, many thought it would degrade one of international football's biggest competitions.

The worry was that a tournament usually contended for by Europe's elite countries was to focus on participation rather than quality, whereby third-rate countries would be given an 'undeserving' shot at a major tournament.

To the contrary, though, it's arguably revitalised the appetite of many others. The likes of Wales could have endure a two-legged play-off and a familiar exit had it been the usual 16 countries.


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As a result of the new structure, though, fans will get to see one of the world's most exciting players in Gareth Bale playing on the world stage - should he avoid injury, of course. It's a shame really that the likes of George Best and Ryan Giggs weren't provided the same opportunity.

It was only two years ago that Northern Ireland lost to renowned minnows and whipping boys, Luxembourg, but even they will be in attendance next summer, competing in a major tournament for the first time in 30 years.

Now, Wales and Northern Ireland are not and never have been football 'powers', but you can't say that about fellow returners Hungary who, as you may know, were arguably the best side of the 1950s and the greatest to have never won the World Cup.

Like Northern Ireland, Euro 2016 will be Hungary's first major tournament in 30 years since the 1986 World Cup, much to the delight of fans who hold a special place in their hearts for a country once nicknamed the 'Magical Maygars'.

From a personal point of view, I would also have liked to have seen the opponents they beat 3-1 on aggregate, Norway, make it to the Euros. They may have only reached four major tournaments in their history, but three of those were in the space of six years from 1994 to 2000 - nostalgia territory for people in their mid to late 20s.

The one they missed was the Euro '96 finals held in England, which was a shame seeing as a healthy majority of their squad plied their trade in the country then and thereafter.  

A 'new' name on the horizon that is just as special, however, is Iceland, who have become the smallest nation to qualify for a major tournament. Never within a bellow, let alone a shout, of ever reaching the finals of a major tournament until the last two, they too will add to the freshness that will engulf next year's Euros.

And with four countries from the British Isles amongst the party - the highest number so far for a major tournament - after Republic of Ireland's 3-1 two-legged victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina, we should look forward to it more than ever. 


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