Three more nations booked a spot at the 2024 European Championship on Saturday as the final round of qualifying games for next summer’s tournament in Germany continued.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Saturday’s action:
Netherlands in with a game to spare
Tied with Greece atop Group B, the Dutch knew a win Saturday at home in Amsterdam against the already eliminated Irish would be enough to reach Euro 2024 before Tuesday’s visit to Gibraltar in the group finale.
Wout Weghorst put the Oranje ahead after just 11th minutes, and the towering 6-foot-6 striker’s goal turned out to be enough to send the 1988 continental titlists back to the tournament for the 11th time:
Slim as the result was, Ronaldo Koeman’s side dominated the match and fully deserved its victory.
Now, after a run to the quarterfinals at last year’s World Cup in Qatar that ended on penalties to eventual champ Argentina, the Dutch will be hoping for their first deep run at the Euros in a generation; the Netherlands hasn’t reached the semis since back-to-back final four appearances in 2000 and 2004.
Switzerland also takes care of business
Despite settling for a 1-1 tie with Kosovo, the point was enough for the Swiss to extend its streak of major tournament appearances to six thanks to Romania’s victory over Israel elsewhere in Group I.
Ruben Vargas scored the only goal Switzerland would need two minutes after halftime. Despite sealing the deal, it’s fair to wonder if Vargas & Co. can make noise in Germany without drastically improving their current form. The Swiss have five draws in their last six outings and gave up the equalizer after the 80th minute in each one. Muhamet Hyseni’s leveler for Kosovo on Saturday came with eight minutes of regular time to play.
… as does Romania, which qualifies for the first time since 2016
Israel actually took an early lead over the Romanians on Saturday in a match that had to be played in Hungary because of the “hosts” ongoing war with Hamas.
Fortunately for the visitors, goals by George Pușcaș and Ianis Hagi were enough to secure a 2-1 that gave Romania a ticket to the Euros for the first time in eight years. It’s a huge achievement for a country that suffered the indignity of hosting games at Euro 2020 despite its national team not participating.
A historic win for France
With Les Bleus having qualified last month, Saturday’s match against Group B bottom-feeder Gibraltar in Nice was expected to be as anticlimactic as it gets. And it would’ve been even if France had won by a lopsided but not unforeseen scoreline of, say, 7-0.
Instead, France prevailed by twice as many goals, its 14-0 victory the biggest in the 119-year history of the national team. An own goal by the visitors’ Ethan Santos put Gibraltar behind less than three minutes in before nine different French players found the net. Kylian Mbappé led the way with a hat trick — moving him past Antoine Griezmann and into third place on France’s all-time scoring list — while the ageless Olivier Giroud scored twice.
As it stands, England is the bookies’ slight favorite to win what would be its first European crown next July. France is right behind the Three Lions, though. And while the caliber of Saturday’s opponent means that drawing too many conclusions from the historic triumph probably isn’t wise, betting against the 2022 World Cup runner-up could prove every bit as foolish.
Armenia deals Wales a major setback
The Welsh were in a great spot after taking four points from its two games versus 2022 World Cup semifinalist Croatia. With head-to-head results the tiebreaker and Wales and Croatia both sitting on 10 points behind a Turkish squad that had already clinched, a win for the Dragons in Armenia would’ve gone a long way toward automatic qualification for Rob Page’s side.
Armenia had other ideas. Former MLS All-Star Lucas Zelarayán put the hosts ahead early, and while Wales was able to get back on level terms (via Nair Tiknizyan’s own goal) before the first half was over, the contest ended 1-1. The draw means Page’s team no longer controls its destiny and will have to hope that the Luka Modric-led Croatia — which topped Latvia 2-0 Saturday — loses to the Armenians Tuesday in their last qualifier. That’s not likely. In the absence of a miracle, the silver lining for Wales is that it could still make it to the main event via the playoffs next March. That might not have been possible had Danny Ward not made a brilliant save against Armenia’s Edgar Sevikyan in the 90th minute:
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