After Belgium, Italy, Poland, Russia and Ukraine’s qualification in October, it was England’s turn to enter into Europe’s premier football tournament on Friday last.
The Three Lions stormed into the UEFA 2020 European Cup finals after a thumping 7-0 win over Montenegro at the Wembley stadium. A hattrick from Harry Kane and goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Marcus Rashford and Tammy Abraham contributed to the rout of the visiting South Europeans. Apart from having topped the Group A with 18 points, England’s tally of 33 goals scored in the qualifiers is the next highest to only to the Belgians.
Czech Republic was the other team to qualify, beating Kosovo 2-1 at Prague in an enthralling affair. But it was the first-time entrants into the European circuit who opened the scoring through striker Atdhe Nuhiu in the 50th minute. The Czech’s equalized through Alex Kral in the 71st minute and 8 minutes later Ondrej Celustka gave the hosts the winner that took them through.
An injury-time goal in the 92nd minute by Valencia winger Rodrigo saw Spain qualify for the Euro 2020 after they after trailed for most of the match to Marcus Berg’s header in the 50th minute. Spain dominated play for most of both halves and could have scored more. But the 1-1 draw means that Sweden too qualified, being the runner up in the Group F cluster with 18 points from their 9 games. Spain lead the cluster with 23 points from their 9 outings.
France qualified from Group H after moving to the top with 22 points from their 9 fixtures played. The world champions struggled somewhat to beat minions Moldova (bottom-placed in the Group) on Saturday at the Parc de Princes, Paris. In fact, the visitors were quickly up 0-1 when Vadim Rata capitalized on Clement Lenglet’s mispassed header to give his team an early lead in the 9th minute. Raphael Varane equalized for France in the 35th and Olivier Giroud saved the hosts some embarrassment when he converted a penalty eleven minutes before close to make it 2-1.
Turkey who needed just a draw to make it to the Euro 2020 and that is what they ensured at the Turk Telekom Arena on Friday night when they played out a 0-0 draw against Iceland. The Turks moved to the 2nd place of the Group H cluster, gaining a solitary point from the drawn game. The Turks had an extremely nervy moment at the Friday night’s game when Merih Demiral saved the hosts from a certain goal in the late stages of the game. Horour Magnusson headed a Gylfi Sigurdsson’s corner that was clearly heading for back-post net with Turkish goalkeeper Mert Gunok completely beaten, but an astonishing on-the-line clearance from Juventus defender Demiral denied the Icelanders a late win.
Finland registered their first ever entry into a major soccer tournament when they qualified for the Euro 2020 by beating Liechtenstein 3-0 at the Sonera Stadium, Helsinki on the night of the 15th, Friday. A goal from Jasse Tuominen in the 21st minute and double strikes from Teemu Pukki in the 64th and 75th sealed helped seal the historic win for the Finns. The Eagle-owls finished second in the Group J cluster from which Italy had already qualified last month. Hundreds rushed on to the Sonera Stadium pitch after the final whistle and while manager Markku Kanerva, a former teacher, conducted his post-match interview, fireworks were seen going off in the distance. Huge crowds gathered at a giant screen in the capital, Helsinki, while a viewing party was hosted in the city by Premier League side Norwich City, whose striker Pukki has become the talisman of Finland’s qualifying campaign with 9 goals from 9 games.
World Cup finalists Croatia sealed their place at Euro 2020 by coming from behind to beat Slovakia 3-1 in Rijeka to top Group E. Robert Bozenik opened the scoring for Slovakia before Nikola Vlasic equalized for the Croats in the second half. Bruno Petkovic and Ivan Perisic then netted in the 60th and the 74th to secure the hosts’ victory and a berth at next year’s finals.
The Netherlands needed just a point to secure a place at the 2020 Euros and a 0-0 draw at Belfast against Northern Ireland ensured just that. The Dutch played a below-par game and were lucky to come out unscathed for which they have NI captain Steven Davis to thank. Davis blasted his penalty over the bar just after the half-hour mark after Joel Veltman was adjudged to have handled the ball off a George Saville shot on goal.
Germany will also compete in next summer’s finals as they moved top of Group C, 2 points ahead of the Dutch, with a 4-0 home win over Belarus. This is Die Mannschaft’s 12th entry in the Euros which is the most by any nation.
Meanwhile Belgium maintained their cent per cent win record when they blanked out Russia 1-4 (already qualified) in a Group I encounter at St. Petersburg on Saturday. Coach Roberto Martinez Belgians were ruthlessly clinical in their 9th straight win of the qualifiers and cruised to a 0-3 lead by half-time on the back of goals from the Hazard brothers, Thorgan and Eden. Ex-Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku made it 0-4 in the 72th, but the hosts had a consolation goal when Georgi Dzhikiya poked in off a rebound in the 79th. Dzhikiya’s goal was astonishingly only the second goal the Belgians had conceded from their nine games while they were able to hammer as many as 34 past their opponents.
The big news of the week was that while Cristiano Ronaldo’s hattrick gave his nation a 6-0 win against Lithuania and took his tally of international goals to 98, the European champions of 2016 will have to wait a while before they can qualify for the 2020 Euros. It’s been a mediocre performance by the Iberian nation so far in the qualifiers, having mustered 14 points from their 7 games and only a point ahead of Serbia’s 13. Ukraine had already qualified from Group B in October after topping the cluster with 19 points. Portugal will qualify for next summer’s European Championship if they beat Luxembourg on Sunday night. Aleksandar Mitrovic scored twice as Serbia beat Luxembourg 3-2 to ensure the race for the second qualifying spot and it looks like things will go down to the final game in cluster B.
The two other major teams made to wait for qualification are Denmark and Switzerland despite wins of 6-0 and 1-0 over Gibraltar and Georgia respectively. Denmark have moved to the top of the table in Group D with 15 points after the big win while Switzerland are just one behind at 14. But with one game to go and Republic of Ireland only 2 points behind the Swiss, the fight for the 2nd place in this Group looks wide open.