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Despite not reaching EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland next June, the national team of Northern Ireland can
be proud of their qualifying campaign, which saw them soar forty places up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. After heading the group at one stage, the Irish were in with a chance of making it until the very last moment of their final match against Spain, even though coach Lawrie Sanchez, who had revitalised a team that had been in the doldrums for years and struggled even to score goals, departed for English club Fulharn in May 2007. Goals ceased to be a problem, with number nine David Healy scoring more than anyone else in the whole competition, With a total of 13 strikes, Healy was not only top scorer of the entire qualifying campaign but also broke Croatia’s Davor Suker’s previous record of 12 goals, which had stood since 1996. Former national team captain Nigel Worthington took over as head coach for the remainder of the qualifiers.
As Switzerland prepare to kick-off EURO 2008 against the Czech Republic in Basle on 9 June, the Swiss association welcomed delegates from all the participating teams to Lucerne for the final draw. In other news, the country also recently had the satisfaction of registering its 20,000:” female player. As in other European associations, women’s football has undergone a tremendous surge in popularity in Switzerland: from 2,400 licensed players 20 years ago, the number had risen to 5,715 by 1997 before increasing to last year’s total of 20,000.
Players’ health is increasingly a central concern, with the UEFA executive committee deciding that all players taking part in EURO 2008 should have a thorough heart examination. In Wales, all first division players must undergo an echocardiogram, the cost of which will be borne by the Welsh association, which has put aside GBP 50,000 for this purpose.