Euro 2016: Four players who overcame the odds to be in France

Conor Washington (Northern Ireland and Queens Park Rangers)


Northern Ireland's Conor Washington celebrating his goal against Belarus in a friendly on May 27. PHOTO: REUTERS

When the European Championship was last held in 2012, Washington was a postman playing in the ninth tier of English football. Born in England, he had never even been to Northern Ireland at that point.

On Sunday, the forward could make his fifth appearance for Northern Ireland, his grandmother's birthplace.

The 24-year-old was not involved in Euro qualifiers and only got his first call-up in March. He scored against Slovenia on his home debut and also found the net when Michael O'Neill's side faced Belarus in May.

In a space of four years, he has gone from St Ives Town in the Southern Football League to the Allianz Riviera in Nice for Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 opener against Poland.

"I don't pinch myself sometimes, I pinch myself all the time about where I am now," said Washington, who worked his way up the leagues with spells at Newport County and Peterborough United before arriving at second-tier side Queens Park Rangers.

"Just having an open training session in front of hundreds of local people is a new one for me," he told the British press after training at Parc de Montchervet, north of Lyon.

Aritz Aduriz (Spain and Athletic Bilbao)


Spain’s Aritz Aduriz (right) during a friendly match against Romania on March 27. PHOTO: AFP

In 2010, Aduriz made his Spain debut - a 13-minute cameo against Lithuania in a Euro qualifier. The striker never got another chance to show what he could do at the international level until Vicente del Bosque called him up for the friendlies with Italy and Romania in March.

The 35-year-old striker subsequently edged Chelsea striker Diego Costa and Euro 2012 Golden Boot winner Fernando Torres out of the Spain squad.

"There are a lot of very good people who have been left out," the late bloomer told reporters. "It's not normal for someone my age to go to a European Championship, especially when you're not normally in the squad."

Yet he was hard to ignore. The top-scoring Spaniard in La Liga had 42 goals in 50 Bilbao appearances in all competitions last season, including a hat-trick against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup.

Joe Ledley (Wales and Crystal Palace)

On May 7, the 29-year-old midfielder suffered a fractured fibula during Crystal Palace's Premier League match against Stoke City.

He was ruled out of the FA Cup final but was determined not to miss Wales' first appearance at a major tournament for 58 years.

It can take months to recover from a broken leg. But Ledley was named in the Chris Coleman's squad for Euro 2016 only 24 days after he got injured.

And he is in line to start against Slovakia on Saturday.

"Joe Ledley has done so well to get back to where he is, but I think it is fair to say you can't really see him playing 90 (minutes)," Coleman said.

"But can he play a part? Yes. He is integrated with the rest of the team and done what the rest have done in training."

Hannes Thor Halldorsson (Iceland and Bodo/Glimt)


Iceland's goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson at a training session on June 10. PHOTO: EPA

The 32-year-old goalkeeper was a part-time footballer until 2014. While the likes of Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo - who he will come up against on Tuesday - prepared for Euro 2012, he was gearing up for the 2012 Eurovision Song contest. He directed Iceland's entry

"I would say my full-time job is as a film-maker and that's where I get most of my money, but I try to balance both things perfectly," he told Sports Illustrated in 2013. "It's a demanding job being a film maker, then I train at five every evening."

The journeyman has played for nine clubs, which is more than he had anticipated. According to The Guardian, he decided to quit football when he was 20. But he found a third-tier team in Iceland that needed a goalkeeper. He now plays for Bodo/Glimt in Norway, on loan from Dutch Eredivisie club NEC Nijmegen.