We may be set to see familiar names in the Euro 2016 final with Portugal facing off against either Germany or France, but some would say the real winners of this tournament were unfancied debutants like Wales and Iceland, both of whom made it to at least the quarter-finals, and won the hearts of neutrals in the process.
Here’s how – and why – this summer’s Euros has been all about the underdog, and why to expect plenty more surprises in the qualifying for World Cup 2018.
Organisation and a real team ethic
It’s a well-worn cliché by now, but for good reason. The solid defence of Iceland, Wales’ intelligent counter-attacking football and Northern Ireland’s set-piece nous saw those sides taste victory in games where they were distinctly unfancied beforehand.
Iceland were 9/1 to beat England before kick-off, while the Dragons were 9/2 to overcome Belgium, and it was the same price for Norn Iron to topple a Ukraine side possessing a number of household names.
Throughout the tournament, there’s been plenty of value in backing well-organised teams with a great system – but few star names – to taste victory.
That’s a strategy which is likely to pay dividends again in the World Cup 2018 qualifying, with Wales (11/10) and Northern Ireland (8/1) both odds-against to make it to Brazil, while Iceland are 7/1 to top a five-team qualifying group.
Talented players were underrated by the big guns
Of course, it’s not all just about passion and organisation. If it were, we’d be sending in a Ladbrokes News team to compete for the next Euros qualifiers (we like sport and we’re very tidy!). But alas, you need skilful players – and the underdogs had a number of them.
A large part of Northern Ireland’s success came from Ukraine’s lax marking against them, while Poland switched off in their 1-0 win over Michael O’Neill’s side, and were almost punished for it.
So too Portugal who ignored the threat of Hungary’s Balazs Dzudzsak and Zoltan Gera, whose goals meant the underdogs became the first team to score more than two goals in against A Selecao in 25 matches.
Loyal fans who produced a great atmosphere
Those gathered in the stands to support Iceland and Wales will have impressed viewers as much as the impressive displays of their players, while Northern Ireland’s Green and White Army won even the approval of the German team’s official Twitter account.
As well as spurring those sides on to unexpected glories, the fans provided some of the most inspiring moments of the finals, with Wales fans’ emotional rendition of Land of My Fathers sending commentators around the globe into a hush.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland fans let anyone in a 50-mile radius of their grounds know that Will Grigg was on fire. He may not have kicked a ball in France, but fans of Poland, Ukraine and Germany certainly knew who he was at full-time!
— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) June 21, 2016
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.