"The anticipated carve-up between Israel and Russia fails to materialise."
Apply your own patronising adjective to the Scotland national team as Alex McLeish’s side bow out of Euro 2008, losing 2-1 to Italy at Hampden Park.
A disastrous opening sees Luca Toni put the Azzuri in front inside two minutes, but the Scots battle back through the only marginally offside Barry Ferguson on 65. A draw would have left the Tartan Army cheering on Ukraine against France on Wednesday, but all hope is completely quashed by Christian Panucci’s headed goal from the injury time free-kick that never was;
“Alan Hutton was in control of the ball and their guy battered him. How can that be a free-kick to Italy?” asks McLeish, emotionally if not unreasonably;
“We battered them in the second half and they were dead men walking at the end.” adds the Scottish manager.
Elsewhere in Group B Lithuania’s 2-0 victory over Ukraine is relevant only if a scrap for fourth place is your thing.
Keep hold of those betting slips England fans, as the anticipated carve-up between Israel and Russia fails to materialise, leaving England’s Euro 2008 destiny back in their own hands. Steve McClaren’s men need the Israelis to get a point at home to Guus Hiddink’s side to keep realistic hopes alive, and are astounded and delighted in equal measures when Russia contrive to lose 2-1.
A goal down at half-time through Elyaniv Barda, Russia look strong after the break and equalise thanks to Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. With Hiddink’s men pushing for the winner they know will almost certainly guarantee qualification, they are caught on the break with Omer Golen’s late winner.
Remarkably, England can now win Group E with a victory over Croatia on Wednesday (November 21) by two or more clear goals. Estonia’s 2-0 win in Andorra guarantees the latter the wooden spoon.
Northern Ireland can still make it out of Group F, that after beating Denmark 2-1 at a waterlogged Windsor Park. Nigel Worthington’s side are in trouble on 51 minutes when Nicklas Bendtner puts the Danes in front, but Warren Feeney equalises before David Healey notches his 13th goal of the qualifying campaign.
Now the bad news, as Spain’s 3-0 romp over Sweden guarantees their ticket to Austria and Switzerland. It means that even a victory over Spain in their last game would leave Northern Ireland needing Latvia to beat Sweden. The same Latvia who today concede the first goal to Liechtenstein before going on to win 4-1.
When the qualifying draw was made there would have been high anticipation of the meetings between Wales and the Republic Of Ireland. However, both have displayed varying degrees of incompetence throughout the campaign, and both were out of contention well before today’s 2-2 draw at the Millennium Stadium. For the record a Jason Koumas penalty in the 89th minute grabs Wales a point, that after they had taken the lead through the Wigan man’s expert header, but been pegged back by goals from Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle;
“We needed that third goal to kill them off.” observes Ireland caretaker-boss Don Givens;
“We played well, got the goal and had other chances, but then suffered a sucker punch right at the end.”
Germany and the Czech Republic had already sewn up Group D’s qualification places, and both celebrate with wins over Cyprus and Slovakia respectively.
Group A action sees Poland confirm their presence at next year’s finals. They beat Belgium 2-0, while narrow victories for Portugal over Armenia and Finland over Azerbaijan leave Big Phil’s side needing a point against Roy Hodgson’s Finns in midweek. Victory for Finland will see more amusing tears from Cristiano, and book Finland an unlikely ticket to the big show.
Defending champions Greece cement their Group C leadership with a 5-0 drubbing of Malta. There are no easy games in international football, don’t you know. Yet the main attraction in this section is Turkey’s trip to Norway, which ends in a 2-1 win for the visitors. Newcastle tub-meister Emre is on the score sheet, but the result means that Turkey must still beat Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday since Norway’s last match is with Malta.
Moldova move above Hungary into fifth place by beating them 3-0.
All issues are settled in Group G also, where Romania and Holland are the qualifiers. The Dutch win by a solitary goal over Luxembourg, while Bulgaria’s victory over Romania by the same score won’t be enough.
Belarus’ 4-2 win in Albania moves them to within a point of their fourth placed opponents.
By Stephen Orford
18 November 2007