The Malta Independent 6 December 2023, Wednesday
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Italy qualify for Euro 2024 and avoid playoffs; Slovenia and Czech Republic advance too

Associated Press Tuesday, 21 November 2023, 05:26 Last update: about 15 days ago

 Italy earned some redemption by qualifying for next year’s European Championship on Monday, while Slovenia and the Czech Republic also secured their spots.

Czech coach Jaroslav Šilhavý resigned shortly after the final whistle against Moldova.

Italy needed just a point against Ukraine to claim second spot in Group C and avoid the dreaded playoffs, and it managed a 0-0 draw in Germany. However, there were some nervy moments for the Azzurri.

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Italy failed to qualify for the past two World Cups after losing playoffs — to Sweden and North Macedonia. After the Azzurri missed out on the 2018 World Cup, they went on to win the following European Championship.

“We are very happy. We are where we deserve to be, after all the difficulties that we had,” Italy captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma said. "But thanks to the new coach and the staff we have returned.

“Now it’s right that we go there and we go there to bring back something, even to win it because we are going there as winners.”

Ukraine would have sneaked past Italy with a win but will now head into the playoffs. England was already assured of top spot in the group and it drew at North Macedonia 1-1 to finish the campaign unbeaten.

A point would also have been enough for Slovenia and the Czech Republic to advance to Euro 2024 and they beat Kazakhstan and Moldova respectively to end their opponents’ hopes of qualifying automatically for a first major international tournament.

Kazakhstan still has a chance via the playoffs. It will play Greece in a semifinal on March 21 and — if it wins — either Georgia or Luxembourg five days later.

The top two finishers from each of the 10 groups advance. Another three spots will be determined in a playoff linked to performances in the Nations League. Host Germany automatically qualifies.

LATE DRAMA

Ukraine was angered by a decision not to give a penalty in stoppage time for what seemed like a trip on Mykhailo Mudryk by Bryan Cristante.

Federico Chiesa, Giovanni di Lorenzo and Davide Frattesi all missed excellent chances in the first half for Italy, for which Donnarumma charged down a shot by Mudryk to stop Ukraine taking the lead. His own misjudgment off a long throw gave Mudryk the chance.

It was the first time Italy failed to score in a European Championship qualifier in more than 13 years.

The match took place at the stadium of Bundesliga leader Bayer Leverkusen because Ukraine cannot play international games at home for security reasons during the military invasion by Russia. Russia was banned from Euro 2024 qualifying.

Russia thrashed Cuba 8-0 in a friendly on Monday with eight different goal-scorers. The result was one goal shy of its record 9-0 win over San Marino in qualifying for Euro 2020.

COACH QUITS

Šilhavý resigned shortly after steering his side to a 3-0 win over 10-man Moldova. The 62-year-old Šilhavý, who had been in charge for five years, said the decision had already been made before the match.

Not content with qualifying for only its second major tournament, Albania ensured it did so as Group E winner after drawing with the Faeroe Islands 0-0.

That saw Albania finish above the Czech Republic thanks to a superior head-to-head record.

There were fireworks before the match in Tirana while fans also held aloft a giant banner that read: “God is Albanian.”

A QUARTER CENTURY

Slovenia will play in the European Championship for the first time in nearly a quarter century.

A late goal from Benjamin Verbič saw Slovenia beat Kazakhstan 2-1 and qualify for the tournament for the first time since Euro 2000.

Denmark was already guaranteed to finish top of Group H and it lost away to Northern Ireland 2-0.

Pyry Soiri scored twice to help third-placed Finland win in San Marino 2-1.

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