European champions Italy won the right to defend their title at Euro 2024 after a 0-0 draw on Tuesday (AEDT) with Ukraine in Leverkusen secured qualification for next year’s finals in Germany.
The final score belied the true nature of the match, with Italy’s high-octane attack and Ukraine’s counterattacking threat creating several chances for both teams.
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Ukraine had a late penalty appeal turned down, despite Italy midfielder Bryan Cristante looking to have made contact with Mykhailo Mudryk’s foot in injury time.
The result means Italy, who failed to qualify for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups either side of their Euro 2020 triumph, avoid another embarrassing tournament miss.
Ukraine, forced to take the fixture to Germany due to the ongoing conflict with Russia, can still qualify, but will need to navigate the play-offs in March 2024.
Italy travelled to Leverkusen knowing they would progress by avoiding defeat, while Ukraine knew only a win would suffice.
Mudryk was lively down the left for Ukraine and crafted a number of half-chances early, with his side denied by poor finishing.
Italy’s dominance of possession started to tell after half an hour, Federico Chiesa sliding a smooth pass across the face of goal which eluded a desperate Davide Frattesi.
Italy continued to attack early in the second half but as the game wore on the increasingly nervous Italians sat back, allowing Ukraine more space up front.
Mudryk was always a threat and appeared to have been brought down in the box after contact from Cristante, but the referee waved his team’s desperate pleas for a spot-kick away.
England narrowly avoided an embarrassing defeat against North Macedonia as they wrapped up a place among the top seeds at Euro 2024 with a 1-1 draw in Skopje.
Gareth Southgate’s side trailed to Enis Bardhi’s first-half strike before Jani Atanasov’s own goal gifted the visitors their second-half equaliser at the Tose Proeski Arena.
Having finished as Group C winners with six victories and two draws, England will be in the first pot of Euro 2024 seeds alongside Germany, Portugal, France, Spain and Belgium.
That should increase their chances of landing a favourable group when the draw for next year’s tournament in Germany is made on December 2.
The initial signs were promising for England as Declan Rice smashed a fierce drive against the post from 20 yards.
The ineffective Ollie Watkins, deputising for rested England striker Harry Kane, headed wide when he should have hit the target.
For all their territorial dominance, England were fortunate not to concede a penalty when Harry Maguire stumbled and clearly shoved Elif Elmas.
Referee Filip Glova waved play on and VAR upheld his decision to North Macedonia’s intense frustration.
If that was a debatable call, North Macedonia’s luck quickly turned as they benefitted from an equally dubious decision in the 41st minute.
When Rico Lewis jumped to head the ball away from Bojan Miovski, the England left-back’s outstretched arm caught the striker in the head, sending him sprawling in the area.
It looked like accidental contact by Lewis and a theatrical fall from Miovski, yet Glova awarded a penalty after checking the pitchside monitor.
Jordan Pickford dived to his left to save Bardhi’s spot-kick, but the Macedonian alertly pounced on the rebound to fire home from close range.
As Southgate’s frustration mounted, England thought they had equalised two minutes after halftime.
Jack Grealish bundled in Bukayo Saka’s cross, but the goal was correctly disallowed by VAR for offside against the Manchester City winger.
Against opponents throwing themselves into tackles with abandon, England had to dig deep before finally getting back on level terms in the 59th minute.
Kane had just come off the bench seconds earlier when he challenged for Phil Foden’s corner, forcing Atanasov to divert the ball into his own net.
FULL EURO 2024 QUALIFICATION RESULTS
North Macedonia 1-1 England
Czech Republic 3-0 Moldova
Albania 0-0 Faroe Islands
Ukraine 0-0 Italy
Northern Ireland 2-0 Denmark
Slovenia 2-1 Kazakhstan
San Marino 1-2 Finland