Italy, Spain and France secured their Euro 2008 passages on Saturday but there was heartbreak for Scotland while England’s slim hopes received a major boost from Israel.
After last month’s defeat in Moscow, England’s Euro 2008 fate was taken out of their hands but Israel’s 2-1 upset of Russia in Tel Aviv made them masters of their own destiny once again.
A win or draw against Croatia in their final Group E game on Wednesday, will now be enough to see Steve McClaren’s team through even if as expected Russia beat minnows Andorra.
”It will be a difficult game,” McClaren told the Football Association website.
”But I’m convinced we will get the result we need and will qualify for Austria and Switzerland.
”It’s back in our own hands now and we really need the whole country to get right behind the team over the next few days. We’ve got to get the result on the pitch on Wednesday, while we really want the fans to generate another really big Wembley atmosphere — just as they did against Russia.”
While precious new life was breathed into England’s campaign Scotland’s European dream ended in tears as world champions Italy beat Alex McLeish’s men 2-1 at Hampden Park.
That saw the Italians qualifying alongside Group B runners-up France and left the Scots to rue yet another missed international competition.
Scotland’s hopes of making it through to their first major event since the 1998 World Cup were cruelly crushed courtesy of Christian Panucci’s injury-time winner.
Luca Toni had fired Italy into a second minute lead but McLeish’s side battled back bravely and deservedly levelled through captain Barry Ferguson in the second half.
Despite then bombarding Italy in the closing stages it was the visitors who scored the decisive second goal after the regulation 90 minutes had ended.
A bitterly disappointed McLeish said: ”We didn’t deserve to lose. It would have been a long shot if we’d drawn and needed France to lose to Ukraine, but it wouldn’t have been the worst result.
”For the last 15 minutes we had Italy on the ropes and I thought we were going to Austria and Switzerland.
”I feel so disappointed for the players and it’s very unfortunate we’re not going to the finals but we’ve given a few of the big teams a scare on the way.”
Italy manager Roberto Donadoni could not hide his elation at the end but praised the Scottish team and their supporters.
He said: ”I’m not going to get philosophical but I just wish everyone could feel the way I did in that dressing room after the game.
”It was fantastic for me to celebrate with the players at the end. But the Scottish fans have shown us how to get behind their team and how to behave before, during and after a game and we should learn from them.”
In Tel Aviv, Elyaniv Barda sent Israel into an early lead with Diniyar Bilyaletdinov equalising for Russia on the hour mark before Israel shocked the visitors when striker Omer Golan grabbed the injury-time winner.
Russia coach Guus Hiddink, interviewed on Sky Sports, said England were capable of getting a result against Croatia at the new Wembley.
”At home, they are capable of doing so. We have to be realistic and honest about that. I have hope, but let’s be realistic. They [England] can do what they want.”
He added: ”It’s a blow for Russia because we were very close. We were very naive in the first 20/25 minutes. All the opportunities were there. We were pressing forward second half but we were not fine tuned in the ultimate and final pass.
”We had a lot of half-chances but we were not very sharp in the final pass.”
In Group F Northern Ireland are still in with a chance after beating Denmark 2-1, David Healy grabbing the winner with 11 minutes left with a goal fit to win any game, a delicate chip over the goalkeeper from an acute angle which capped a marvellous fightback.
Warren Feeney pulled Northern Ireland level after Nicklas Bendtner had given Denmark the lead and now it goes down to the wire against Spain, who qualified after beating Sweden 3-0, on Wednesday.
Healy was taking his tally of goals in qualifying to 13 — a record for the competition, overtaking the previous best tally of 12 set by Croatia’s Davor Sukor for Euro 96.
Other teams to book their seats at the Euro 2008 high table after the penultimate batch of qualifiers were The Netherlands, Poland and Croatia, despite the Group E leaders losing 2-0 in Macedonia.
They join already qualified Greece, the holders, the Czech Republic, Romania and Germany with the remaining few places to be decided on Wednesday. – Sapa-AFP