Euro 2024 roundup: Italy draw Ukraine to clinch berth

... England held by North Macedonia

Euro 2024 roundup: Italy draw Ukraine to clinch berth

Italy, the reigning European champions, earned the point needed against Ukraine to finish second in Group C behind England.

It was simply a matter of avoiding defeat against Ukraine, with whom Italy started this pivotal match tied on points, after a 2-1 victory in the rematch.

In a tense encounter in Leverkusen, Germany, the Azzurri’s spot in the championship game for next summer was assured.

Ukraine, in third place, needs to make it through the play-offs in March.

Ukraine saw claims for a stoppage-time penalty disallowed as Mykhailo Mudryk went down under a challenge from Bryan Cristante, fueled by intense support at their’home’ venue amid Russia’s continuous invasion of their country.

However, Luciano Spalletti’s team overcame that last-minute scare to guarantee they’ll be in Germany to defend their title and earn a spot in the European Championship for the eighth time in a row.

“As all of you know, the war in Ukraine is continuing,” Ukraine boss Serhiy Rebrov said.

“It is quite hard for the players, they’re always watching their phones, they’re watching the news, same as me. In this atmosphere, it is not easy to work.

“But we understand we are presenting as a very strong country and I think today on the pitch all the players showed that we have character and that we fight for our country.”

Rebrov’s Ukraine, the only side who had previously taken points off England, began positively in pursuit of the victory they sought.

Heorhiy Sudakov’s low drive forced Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma into action in an end-to-end opening period, during which Anatoliy Trubin also produced a fine save to deny Nicolo Barella.

The Azzurri gradually asserted themselves but Trubin again came to Ukraine’s rescue when Davide Frattesi was played through on goal, while Giacomo Raspadori fell agonisingly short of meeting the lively Federico Chiesa’s ball across the six-yard box.

Donnarumma recovered superbly from his own failure to collect a cross to smother Mudryk’s close-range attempt as the match remained delicately poised at the increasingly tense BayArena, but Italy held on.

Ex-Napoli boss Spalletti, who only replaced Roberto Mancini as Italy boss three months ago, said: “We have a moment to pat ourselves on the back.Now, the level will step up. Now, the fun begins.”

Elsewhere on Monday, the Czech Republic and Slovenia both also qualified from their respective groups.

West Ham’s Tomas Soucek scored in a 3-0 win over Moldova as the Czechs qualified behind leaders Albania in Group E – though boss Jaroslav Silhavy stepped down after guiding them to qualification.

Meanwhile, Slovenia progressed as Group H runners-up to Denmark with a 2-1 victory against Kazakhstan.

England’s Euro 2024 qualifying campaign ended in a forgettable 1-1 stalemate against North Macedonia in Skopje, but a point was enough for Gareth Southgate’s men to enter Pot 1 for the group-stage draw.

North Macedonia had already been condemned to missing out on a second straight Euros appearance after making their major tournament debut two years ago.

Three days on from an unconvincing 2-0 win over Malta, the Three Lions controversially fell behind to an Enis Bardhi penalty rebound before restoring parity through Jani Atanasov’s own goal, thereby ensuring that they would conclude Group C unbeaten.

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