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Euro qualification shocks

France were defeated by Belarus and Portugal were held 4-4 by Cyprus during the first round of international fixtures last month. With the likes of San Marino, Faroe Islands and Andorra hoping to secure further upsets on Friday, ESPNsoccernet selects a list of the most surprising results in the history of European Championship qualification.

Luxembourg 2-1 Netherlands (1963)

Netherlands are said to have actually held off in the first leg because they wanted the fans to return in force for the second.

Regularly thrashed by the more sizeable nations in Europe during their early years, little was expected of Luxembourg in qualification for the 1964 European Nations' Cup, yet they saw off Netherlands over two legs in a play-off, drawing 1-1 in the first leg in Amsterdam before a Camille Dimmer brace secured a 2-1 victory in the return in Rotterdam.

Luxembourg had played just one game in the two years previous to the match - a 3-1 friendly defeat to USSR - and Standard Liege midfielder Louis Pilot told Le Quotidien in 2007: "I remember this game had been particularly for players like me who had been playing for foreign clubs. For almost two years, we hadn't been summoned by the national team.

"We hadn't evolved together as a team - we met only two or three days before the game - but we had something to prove. We wanted to show our value and that it was wrong not to show faith in us."

Netherlands are said to have actually held off in the first leg because they wanted the fans to return in force for the second. The assembled supporters in Rotterdam subsequently showered the team with boos as they went down to an incredible defeat, and the next day Dutch paper De Telegraaf asked: "Who are we going to play against now? San Marino? Andorra? Liechtenstein?"

Luxembourg then faced Denmark for a place in the finals in Spain, and creditably drew 3-3 at home and 2-2 in Copenhagen. A return to Amsterdam for the replay, though, brought a 1-0 victory for Denmark, who reached the semi-finals of the tournament the following year.

Luxembourg reverted to type in qualification for the '66 World Cup, losing each of their six games.

Albania 0-0 West Germany (1967)

After their controversial defeat to England in the World Cup final of '66, Helmut Schon's men surprisingly struggled their way through the qualification campaign that followed.

West Germany won their opening game 6-0 at home to Albania and, after a loss and a victory in their games against Yugoslavia, a 1-0 win in Albania would have been enough to secure their place in the finals. Incredibly, they couldn't muster a single goal, and the draw became known as the Schmach von Tirana, or 'Disgrace of Tirana'.

Bild called for Max Merkel - who won the German championship in 1966 with 1860 Munich - to replace Schon, who described it as his "worst day as a coach". The DFB ignored the paper, and Schon went on to lead Germany to third place at the 1970 World Cup before winning Euro '72 and the 1974 World Cup as well as reaching the final of Euro '76.

Cyprus 1-1 Italy (1983)

World champions in 1982, Italy failed to qualify for the 1984 European Championships in dismal fashion. They began with draws at home to Czechoslovakia and Romania before reaching their nadir with a 1-1 draw in Cyprus.

Italy ultimately finished second bottom of the group, with their sole victory coming in the final match of the group when they beat Cyprus 3-1 at home.

West Germany 0-1 Northern Ireland (1983)

Northern Ireland have yet to qualify for any European Championships, but they came very close indeed when they beat European champions West Germany 1-0 home and away in their bid to reach Euro 1984. The first game, at Windsor Park, saw QPR striker Ian Stewart recover from a knee injury to get the only goal of the game, and manager Billy Bingham said the performance may even have surpassed the 1-0 victory over Spain in the World Cup the previous year.

A bigger shock was to come, though, when Northern Ireland won by the same scoreline in Hamburg almost exactly a year later, courtesy of Norman Whiteside's goal. The visitors, who were playing their final game of the campaign, went three points clear as a result of the win, which represented West Germany's first home defeat by a European side in nine years.

The Germans, though, had one game left to play - a home tie against minnows Albania. Even so, they came close to blowing it, going a goal down before rallying to win 2-1.

"It is an unbelievable result," Bingham said after West Germany's narrow win meant his team failed to qualify on goal difference. "I expected the Germans to win more comfortably but in the end the pressure must have got to them."

Their efforts in vain, Bingham nonetheless brought great respect to his side, with West Germany boss Jupp Derwall labelling them "one of the hardest teams to beat in the world today".

Faroe Islands 1-0 Austria (1990)

In their first ever competitive game, Faroe Islands pulled off an almighty shock by beating Austria. The game had to be played in Sweden as the islands lacked the grass required for such events, but the Faroese were not deterred by the loss of home advantage or lack of professional footballers.

Torkil Nielsen, a regular chess champion in his homeland, scored the only goal of the game, but it was the goalkeeper, part-time forklift truck driver and national gymnastics champion Jens Martin Knudsen, who made the headlines. Wearing a famous white bobble hat - apparently for protection in the days before more sturdy helmets were allowed - Knudsen made a series of fine saves and became an international sensation.

"I thought a lot about taking off the hat because I would have been the world's biggest laughing stock if we'd lost 0-10, but it's good to wear something on your head when you're in a new world," he later told Rund. "There are plenty of good 'keepers in Europe, but they don't wear hats so they're not remembered. Maybe that was my good fortune."

Belarus 1-0 Netherlands (1995)

Having played their first game as an independent nation in 1992, Belarus had taken part in only 11 fixtures when they met Netherlands in qualification for Euro '96. Their only victory to that point had come against Luxembourg, and they went into the game against Netherlands on the back of a 1-1 draw with Malta, but a goal from Bnei Yehuda forward Syarhyey Hyerasimets condemned Guus Hiddink's men to an unlikely defeat.

Netherlands went on to qualify for the finals, beating Ireland in a play-off, as Belarus finished some nine points behind in the qualification group.

Luxembourg 1-0 Czech Republic (1995)

Luxembourg enjoyed another relatively successful spell in qualification for Euro '96, beating Malta 1-0 home and away, and they provided a major shock when they saw off Czech Republic by the same scoreline with a last-gasp effort from Guy Hellers.

The Czechs went on to reach the final of the tournament itself while Luxembourg had to settle for second bottom in the qualification group, but Hellers said last year of the campaign: "It was absolutely brilliant."

The Luxembourg boss at the time, Paul Philipp, lost more international matches than any other manager in history during his spell in charge. His 17-year reign ended in 2001 after two defeats to Faroe Islands, but his joy for the job never diminished.

"I wouldn't have missed a second of it!" he told The Observer after leaving the post. "There were times when we only narrowly lost to the big nations."

Liechtenstein 0-0 Republic of Ireland (1995)

The fourth smallest country in Europe behind Vatican City, Monaco and San Marino, with a population around the 30,000 mark, Liechtenstein scored one goal and conceded 40 in their attempts to qualify for Euro '96, but they still managed to frustrate Jack Charlton's Ireland.

Goalkeeper Martin Heeb and sweeper Daniel Hasler were in fine form to maintain the deadlock in their 0-0 draw and afterwards Charlton said: "It was an incredible game. I've never been involved in one like it. It will take a long time to get over it."

Ireland failed to get over it in time to save the campaign, losing 3-1 to Austria at home eight days later and finishing second in their group before losing a play-off 2-0 to Netherlands.

Liechtenstein earned their first ever competitive victory when they beat Azerbaijan 1-0 in a qualifier for Euro 2000.

Faroe Islands 2-2 Scotland (2002)

Berti Vogts, who enjoyed great success in the European Championships during his eight-year spell with Germany, was hailed as a "world-class coach with an impressive track record of success in international football" by the SFA upon his appointment in 2002.

Unfortunately, things didn't go to plan: Scotland lost their first game under Vogts 5-0 in a friendly with France before suffering consecutive defeats to Nigeria (1-2), South Korea (4-1), South Africa (2-0) and Denmark (0-1). He at least had the consolation of facing Faroe Islands in his first competitive game that September.

Within 12 minutes of the game in Toftir, though, John Petersen had put Faroe Islands two goals up, and it took until the 83rd minute for Scotland to restore parity.

The SFA stressed that Vogts remained "the right appointment", but Scotland vice-captain Barry Ferguson, who scored the equaliser, perhaps summed up the mood more accurately: "We can't keep saying give Berti time. That's six games and we've yet to win."

Scotland bounced back sufficiently to reach the play-offs, where they were beaten 6-1 on aggregate by Netherlands, before taking two points from three World Cup 2006 qualifiers against Slovenia, Norway and Moldova. Vogts quit, citing the "disgraceful abuse" he had suffered, adding: "It has degenerated into a physical nature, especially on recent occasions where I have been spat upon."

Northern Ireland 3-2 Spain (2006)

A year after David Healy's goal saw off England in a World Cup qualifier, the striker hit a hat-trick as his side beat Spain in a Euro 2008 qualifier. Northern Ireland went into the game on the back of the 3-0 defeat at home to Iceland that opened their campaign but, despite goals from Xavi and David Villa, they emerged victorious.

Boss Lawrie Sanchez, pilloried after the Iceland defeat, refused to speak to the press in the aftermath of this famous victory as he had felt the expectations among press and fans had become unreasonable. Reports emerged in the following day's newspapers that, despite the win, Sanchez was on the verge of resigning his post, with IFA president Jim Boyce saying: "I understand there is a problem."

Sanchez stayed another six months before taking over at Fulham; Spain went on to win Euro 2008.

Cyprus 5-2 Republic of Ireland (2006)

Having lost their opening Euro 2008 qualifier 6-1 in Slovakia, Cyprus secured a substantial victory of their own in their next outing. With Ireland coach Steve Staunton watching from the stands as a result of a touchline ban, Stephen Ireland provided an early opener only for Cyprus to hit back instantly, going 2-1 up within eight minutes.

It was 2-2 going into the break, but Cyprus ran up a three-goal lead to leave Staunton "embarrassed".

"We had an experienced side out there if you look at the number of caps between them, but sometimes there's nothing you can do about it," he said. "The players themselves are left wondering just why it was so bad."

Staunton and Ireland managed to recover some dignity in the games that followed - drawing with Czech Republic and then beating San Marino 5-0 - but they then came within seconds of a 1-1 draw when they travelled to Serravalle to face the latter, a side currently ranked joint worst in the world by FIFA alongside the likes of American Samoa and Papua New Guinea.

San Marino striker Manuel Marani scored his first - and as yet only - international goal in the 86th minute to level the scores at 1-1 before Stephen Ireland's winner deep into injury time.

Staunton said afterwards that their opponents, who have never secured a point in a European Championship qualifier, "were always going to improve as the group went on" and added: "I am delighted to get the three points."

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