EARLIER this week, Hungary, Ireland, Sweden and Ukraine completed the final qualification round-up to secure places in European finals which are to take place in France next summer.
Hungary’s 1-0 win was in part down to a fine string of saves from their goalkeeper Kiraly, known for wearing jogging bottoms. If he plays in the finals, he will become the first player in his fifth decade to participate at a UEFA European tournament when he turns 40 next year. Despite using three managers over the course of their qualification campaign, a brilliant goal from Tamas Priskin did them all proud and sent them through.
Ukraine had to battle hard before securing a place for a second consecutive time courtesy of Andriy Yarmolenko, who made it 1-1 on the night in what was a very spirited display by the Slovenians. Ukraine had controlled the first leg at home 2-0, but the game almost began to slip from then when they conceded after 11 minutes when home skipper Bostjan Cesar headed in from close range. But they failed to create enough chances to take the game to extra time, ultimately succumbing to a 3-1 defeat on aggregate.
Two goals from Jon Walters against Bosnia-Herzegovina saw Ireland end their long road to European qualification on a high. Ireland’s win came six years after they were memorably denied World Cup qualification through Thierry Henry’s infamous handball, but on Monday night there really did seem to have the luck of the Irish. The men in green were awarded a controversial penalty by Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers in the 24th-minute after Bosnia’s Ervin Zukanovic was harshly adjudged to have handled a Daryl Murphy cross. Walters volleyed in again on the 74th minute to all but send the Republic through. The Republic’s journey has epitomised the successful partnership between manager Martin O’Neill and his accomplice Roy Keane, who took over after Ireland’s dismal Euros campaign four years ago under Italian Giovanni Trappatoni.
A double from Zlatan Ibrahimovic secured a 4-3 aggregate victory over neighbours Denmark to reach their fifth successive European Championship. Having lead 2-1 from the first leg, the Swedes opened the scoring with Ibrahimovic’s scruffy first-time shot from Kim Kallstrom’s corner before later curling in a 25-yard free-kick to all but seal a finals spot. Denmark levelled on the night through Yussuf Poulsen and Jannik Vestergaard, but fell two goals short on aggregate.Sweden looked like the more dominant side and, although the Danes didn’t disgrace themselves and rallied in the second half, the Swedes earned the revenge that they were no doubt seeking for their 2010 World Cup play-off defeat by their Scandinavian rivals.
So, the stage is now set for the Euros in France next summer and the spotlight will, shine for the first time on the footballing minnows of Europe in what could be described as a dawning of a new era for international European football.
Featured image: Meristation