How the minnows qualified

Wales' Gareth Bale
Wales' Gareth BalePHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Iceland's striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson
Iceland's striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Northern Ireland's Steven Davis.
Northern Ireland's Steven Davis.PHOTO: REUTERS

WALES

Population: About 3 million

All-time low ranking: No. 117 (August 2011)

Current world ranking: No. 8

Highlight: Have qualified for Euro 2016, their first major Finals in 57 years.

Notable players: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), Ashley Williams (Swansea).

Keys to success: They are not a one-man team, even if Bale, the world's most expensive footballer, earned his country 11 points during qualifying. No other player had a greater influence than the forward, who was involved in eight of Wales' nine goals, scoring six goals with two assists. But their defence was stellar too - conceding just four goals.


ICELAND

Population: 330,000

All-time low ranking: No. 131 (June 2012)

Current world ranking: No. 23

Highlight: Have qualified for a major Finals for the first time. Also the smallest nation to qualify for the European Championship.

Notable players: Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea City), Eidur Gudjohnsen (Shijiazhuang Ever Bright), Alfred Finnbogason (Olympiakos ).

Keys to success: Sigurdsson has been a revelation. He became the first Icelandic player to score six times in a European Championship qualifying campaign when he struck in the 2-2 draw against Latvia on Saturday. The country is also reaping rewards for its forward planning and investment in youth and facilities.


NORTHERN IRELAND

Population: 1.8 million

All-time low ranking: No. 129 (September 2012)

Current world ranking: No. 35

Highlight: Have qualified for their first European Championship and first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup.

Notable players: Kyle Lafferty (Norwich City), Steven Davis (Southampton), Jonny Evans (West Bromwich Albion).

Keys to success: Lafferty's seven goals in qualifying are bettered only by Poland's Robert Lewandowski (12), Russia's Artem Dzyuba and Germany's Thomas Mueller (both eight). The majority of the credit, however, has to go to manager Michael O'Neill for his style of man management.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2015, with the headline 'How the minnows qualified'. Print Edition | Subscribe