And so it begins. Less than two months after Germany celebrated World Cup success in Brazil, Joachim Low's side are amongst the challengers hoping to pluck the European crown from Spain's grasp.
Qualifying took a new format as matches were played out over three days, and Goal was on hand to select the best performers.
In goal, Cyprus’ Antonis Giorgallides had an evening to remember. He might have conceded after only six minutes, but his stop from Miralem Pjanic’s penalty after 87 minutes secured his side an unlikely 2-1 away victory.
At the back, Sergio Ramos of Spain caught the eye with a deft Panenka to kick-start Spain’s defence of their European crown in an easy win over Macedonia. But the shock of the week came in Portugal, where Albania won 1-0, with Mergim Mavraj superb in the defence.
Another more moderate surprise came in Iceland, where the hosts dismantled Turkey 3-0. Right-back Theodor Elmar Bjarnason offered a stout defensive presence and was quietly effective throughout. Meanwhile, England’s 2-0 win over Switzerland owed much to the efforts of Leighton Baines down the left, who was their most consistent attacking threat from full-back.
Taulant Xhaka, elder brother of Switzerland’s Granit, made a memorable debut for Albania in Aveiro, where he was stoic in the centre of the midfield and utterly integral to their victory. In a more offensive role, Croatia centre midfielder Luka Modric proved pivotal, with his skimming shot from range finally breaking redoubtable resistance from Malta.
There were some fine performances from wingers over the course of the weekend. Aiden McGeady proved a match-winner with a double against Georgia, while Scotland’s Ikechi Anya achieved something that he has failed to do even on Fifa by scoring into Germany’s Manuel Neuer.
Poland may have had a seemingly easy task in dispatching Gibraltar 7-0 away from home, but they only really caught light when Robert Lewandowski broke into his stride, scoring four times. In the same group, Thomas Muller once more showed his class with a fine double against Scotland for the world champions.
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