Croatia seal final automatic qualifying spot for Euro 2024 and Wales enter playoffs
LONDON: Croatia overcame some nerves and a stubborn Armenia team to win 1-0 and secure the last automatic qualifying spot for next year’s European Championship on Tuesday.
The Croats needed a win to guarantee qualification along with Group D winner Turkiye. But it was tense in Zagreb until midfielder Ante Budimir headed in Borna Sosa’s cross in the 43rd minute. The celebrations were tinged with relief for 38-year-old midfielder Luka Modric and a Croatia team that had 23 attempts on goal.
A slipup would have given Wales hope if it beat Turkiye in Cardiff, but coach Rob Page’s team drew 1-1. Neco Williams put the Wales ahead early before attacking midfielder Yusuf Yazici equalized with a penalty in the 70th.
The top two finishers from each of the 10 groups advance, while hosts Germany were automatically qualified.
Wales now hope to be one of the three teams qualifying via the playoffs in March with 12 teams involved.
Elsewhere, France’s perfect record in qualifying came to an end when it drew 2-2 at Greece in Athens. Kylian Mbappe hit the crossbar in the final seconds after coming off the bench for World Cup runner-up France.
After conceding a record 14 goals to France, tiny Gibraltar lost 6-0 at home to the already qualified Netherlands.
Forward Calvin Stengs scored a hat trick, while midfielders Mats Wieffer and Teun Koopmeiners each scored before striker Cody Gapko completed the scoring.
Gibraltar finished qualifying with 41 goals conceded in eight games and none scored. In comparison, two-time European champion France netted 29 goals and allowed three.
Group I winners Romania beat visiting Switzerland 1-0 in a match with nothing at stake since both had already qualified to Euro 2024. Center forward Denis Alibec scored the only goal early in the second half.
In the other Group I matches, third-place Israel won 2-0 at Andorra thanks to an own goal and a late effort from midfielder Gadi Kinda to finish three points ahead of Belarus, who won 1-0 at Kosovo courtesy of forward Dmitri Antilevski’s effort late in the first half.
Along with Germany, the qualified nations are Albania, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Scotland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and Turkiye.
The draw for Euro 2024 will be held on Dec. 2.
Three teams out of 12 hopefuls will advance. The semifinals are on March 21 and the finals take place five days later.
The playoff draw is next Thursday. Here is how the three final routes to Germany look:
Path A: Robert Lewandowski’s Poland vs. Estonia; Wales vs. either Finland or Ukraine or Iceland.
Path B: Israel vs. Ukraine or Iceland; Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Finland or Ukraine.
Path C: Kazakhstan face Greece with the winner taking on either Georgia or Luxembourg.
Germany lost 2-0 to Austria in a friendly to leave the tournament hosts in turmoil yet again and with less than seven months until the June 14-July 14 competition begins.
Germany have won just two of their last 10 games and conceded 22 goals in that time. Coach Julian Nagelsmann was hired in September to replace the fired Hansi Flick and won his first game but is winless in three since.
Midfielder Marcel Sabitzer gave Austria the lead in the 29th minute and, after Germany forward Leroy Sané was sent off for shoving Philipp Mwene to the ground, Christoph Baumgartner finished in style with a lob in the 73rd.