Denmark and Albania progressed to the European Championship on Friday while title holders Italy secured a crucial win ahead of the final against Ukraine.
Italy beat North Macedonia 5-2 to clinch both eliminations in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers and ensure they need only a final against Ukraine on Monday to secure a place at Euro 2024 in the Germany. Second place is up for grabs behind group winners England, who beat Malta 2-0 on Friday.
Robert Lewandowski and Poland must go through the playoffs in March after a 1-1 draw at home to the Czech Republic ended their chances of going straight ahead with group leader Albania.
Albania started early and needed just a point in Moldova to secure their Euro 2024 place and did just enough in a 1-1 draw.
Denmark ensured they will finish top of Group H by beating nearest rivals Slovenia 2-1 thanks to a 54th-minute goal from midfielder Thomas Delaney.
That set up another decisive final on Monday: Slovenia host Kazakhstan, who need only a draw to return to the Euros for the first time since 2000. Kazakhstan, who beat San Marino 3-1, did not qualify for major tournament ever.
England secured their place last month with a routine 2-0 win over Malta at Wembley Stadium, with Harry Kane scoring his 25th goal in a prolific season for England and Bayern Munich.
The only surprising moment of drama was when Kane was shown a yellow card after being adjudged to have dived in the penalty area.
England are set to be among the group winners with the best records in the top-flight pool when the Euro 2024 championship is drawn on December 2 in Hamburg.
Including Denmark and Albania, 13 countries have now qualified for the 24-team tournament, with eight more to follow by the time the qualifying groups end on Tuesday.
The final three spots in the 12-team playoffs scheduled for March 21-26 are decided by teams that did not finish in the top two of a qualifying group.
Italy recently have bad memories of playing at home in North Macedonia. In March last year, Italy lost 1-0 to a stoppage-time goal in Palermo and were eliminated from the 2022 World Cup.
There was redemption on Friday at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Even when a half-time lead was cut to 3-2 going into the final minutes, Italy rose again rather than disappear.
“I really liked the team in the second half,” said Italy coach Luciano Spalletti. “These games show the level of personality and these lads have it. When the score became 3-2, I expected them to suffer, to sit back. Instead, they responded very well, wanting to attack even more.”
Brazil coach Sylvinho is going to Euro 2024 with his Albania team.
The former Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder was appointed in January and has led Albania on a seven-match unbeaten run after starting qualifying in a 1-0 loss in Poland in March.
Sylvinho found success after less than a year at his previous jobs coaching Lyon and Corinthians.
Albania needed just one point from their last two matches in Group E, after getting the better of the highly-ranked Poles and Czechs, and got it at the first attempt on Friday. A 25th minute penalty from veteran Sokol Cikalleshi put Albania ahead before Moldova equalized in the 87th.
“After the last whistle, but really after nine months, working every day, it’s a dream, it’s a dream,” said Sylvinho Albanian media. “Indeed, I should enjoy it. And that is why I am very happy, like all of you.”
Thousands of Albanian fans gathered at the main Skanderbeg and Mother Teresa squares in Tirana to celebrate the result by waving national flags and lighting fireworks. Cars drove through the city center blaring their horns and playing loud national music.
After the 1-1 draw in Poland, Albania are two points ahead of the Czech Republic and three points clear of Poland who finished their programme. Moldova has four points but can finish second and qualify.
Albania will host the Faroe Islands in the final on Monday, when the Czechs host Moldova.
Entry to the play-offs is determined by a series of three standings in the Nations League groups played last year before the World Cup in Qatar.
Poland and Croatia or Wales will be included in the top four-team league bracket. Also Italy, if he loses to Ukraine on Monday.
The second tier bracket may include Israel and certainly Bosnia-Herzegovina and Finland, who beat Northern Ireland 4-0 on Friday. Ukraine could fall into it, too.
Nations League winners Georgia and Greece are guaranteed play-off spots in the third tier bracket. Luxembourg will probably join them.
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