YOESTING: Playoff teams like Ireland bring added bonus to Euro '16

Irelands James McClean celebrates at the end of the Euro 2016 play-off second leg soccer match between Ireland and Bosnia in Dublin, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. Ireland won 2-0 to qualify for the tournament. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

Redheads, grey sweatpants, Zlatan and Ukraine is not weak.

All told, the four teams to come out of the European Championship 2016 qualifying playoffs will add color and personality to the tournament. They are the best example of why expanding from 16 to 24 teams will make for a better experience for all.

Ireland held off Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary exposed Norway, Sweden did just enough against Denmark and Ukraine strong-armed Slovenia in the two-legged playoffs held from Thursday to Tuesday. 

The winners rounded out the 24 teams set to play in France next summer. 

Ireland found a bit of redemption from six years ago when a Thierry Henry hand ball helped France advance to the 2014 World Cup in its place. Despite giving up a late goal in the away leg on Friday, Ireland fought to a 2-0 victory in Dublin to secure a spot in France where we can only hope they face the hosts. 

Few in Europe will be disappointed to have the Irish in the tournament, a team that won't be expected to go far but at the same time won't be an easy out for anyone. Plus, they've got gingers aplenty, Guinness flowing and perhaps more ink on their arms than any other team. 

Having the Hungarians back in a major tournament is also a major plus, seeing as the Magyars haven't exactly been mighty during a tournament drought that has lasted more than three decades. 

The 3-1 aggregate victory over Norway wasn't nearly as impressive as 39-year-old goalie Gabor Kiraly's glorious grey sweatpants. The fact his choice of leggings has become such a phenomenon merely exemplifies that Hungary is a team void of stars or even a great storyline other than the fact that the players have come together under adverse circumstances to return the country to relevancy. 

When Zlatan Ibrahimovic smashed home a free kick goal that all but clinched Sweden's spot in the Euros, the English announcer proclaimed: "Big ego, bigger talent!" While it's easy to dismiss Ibrahimovic as a pompous diva (I personally disagree), the mercurial talent is one of the most entertaining players in the world to watch. 

The Danes, down 2-0 on Tuesday and 4-1 on aggregate, made it a game by scoring two late goals, but the 4-3 final tally is a welcome one because major sporting events are just better when Zlatan is involved; he was missed at the 2014 World Cup. 

Finally, it's good to see Ukraine keep ticking with its 3-1 aggregate victory over Slovenia. Despite all of Russia's bullying and all the instability in the region, Ukraine will play at the Euros for just the second time. 

In fact it's the first time the country has qualified for the Euros, having received an automatic place as the co-host four years ago. As anyone who's played Risk on a New York subway (or watched Seinfeld) will tell you, you not say Ukraine weak. 



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