Italy survive late penalty drama to secure place at Euros finals, England gain top seeding despite lame draw

Italy will defend their European Championship title next year in Germany after a 0-0 draw with Ukraine was enough to secure their place.

The game was technically a home fixture for Ukraine, but was played at Bayer Leverkusen’s stadium in Germany because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The scoreless result came as something of a surprise after both teams created plenty of chances on Monday night (Tuesday AEDT). Italy stayed devoted to coach Luciano Spalletti’s all-action attacking style despite needing only to avoid defeat.

Federico Chiesa, Giovanni di Lorenzo and Davide Frattesi all missed excellent chances in the first half for the Azzurri.

Ukraine, who were angered by a decision not to give them a penalty in added time for what seemed like a trip on Mykhailo Mudryk by Bryan Cristante, could still qualify for Euro 2024 via the playoffs.

Ukraine were denied a penalty in the 93rd minute against Italy after this challenge ????

Bryan Cristante leaves a leg hanging. Mykhailo Mudryk goes over in the box. No spot kick says VAR.

Right decision?

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— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) November 20, 2023

Elsewhere in Group C, England completed an unbeaten qualifying campaign by drawing 1-1 at North Macedonia.

Bayern Munich striker Harry Kane forced an equaliser via an own goal just seconds after coming on as a substitute in the 58th minute.

That cancelled out the opener from Enis Bardhi, who tucked away a rebound after his penalty was saved by England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the 41st minute.

The spot kick was awarded when Rico Lewis — the Manchester City defender making his England debut — was adjudged to have struck Bojan Miovski in the face with his hand as he made a clearing header.

North Macedonia lead against England!

Jordan Pickford makes a fine stop from the penalty spot but is unable to keep out the follow up from Enis Bardhi.

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— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) November 20, 2023

England had already secured qualification for next year’s tournament and finished with six wins and two draws, six points clear of second-placed Italy.

The point was enough to secure a top pool seeding at the finals next year.

Gareth Southgate’s side beat North Macedonia 7-0 at home earlier in qualifying.

“The really big results were in March, winning in Italy and the result against Ukraine. It meant coming here tonight was a different test, given we’ve qualified and everything was achieved,”said Southgate.

“The mentality of the players was excellent, the quality with the ball was good on a very difficult pitch and a lot of positive performances.”

Kane was left on the bench with Ollie Watkins preferred due to England having already secured their passage.

“Difficult game, we knew it would be and it was tough against a decent side playing on a pitch that’s difficult to play our style of football.

“We went 1-0 behind against the run of play with a soft penalty. It was good to get on the pitch, I’m always trying to help the team whether it is 90 minutes or 10 minutes. It was important for us to get a goal back and a shame we couldn’t get a second.

“I think it was an own goal, pretty sure. If anyone was going to get a second it was us.

“Against Malta we were sloppy on the ball, today we got a bit of a sucker-punch with the counter-attack and a soft penalty. We were playing against a team that people expected us to beat five or six nil, but they did a job on Italy in the World Cup qualifiers to knock them out.

“We can be really proud of how the qualifying campaign has gone.”

In Group E, the Czech Republic beat 10-man Moldova 3-0 to book their ticket.

The win means the 1996 runners-up will play in their eighth successive Euros after finishing second, level on 15 points with Albania, who drew 0-0 with Faroe Islands.

In Group H, Benjamin Verbic scored a late winner as Slovenia secured their qualification, but opponents Kazakhstan will have to earn their place through March’s playoffs following the 2-1 loss.

Slovenia finished runners-up in Group H behind Denmark. Their only previous appearance at the continental finals came in 2000, while their last visit to a major tournament was the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The Danes wrapped up their campaign with a 2-0 defeat in Northern Ireland, while Finland won 2-1 at San Marino.

Defending champions Italy qualify for an EIGHTH consecutive European Championship ????

Czechia and Slovenia will join them at the party in Germany next year.#EURO2024 #OptusSport

— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) November 20, 2023

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