Italy's Federico Chiesa shoots at goal during the Euro 2024 Qualifier Group C match against Ukraine at BayArena, Leverkusen, Germany on Monday. Image Credit: Reuters

Leverkusen, Germany: A relieved Italy midfielder Davide Frattesi said the European champions will try and “repeat something fantastic” in Germany next year after Monday’s 0-0 draw with Ukraine in Leverkusen secured qualification for Euro 2024.

The result means Italy, who failed to qualify for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups either side of their Euro 2020 triumph, avoid another embarrassing tournament miss.

“We knew if we were unable to break the deadlock in the first hour, it would become really tough. Ukraine then made it a more physical match,” Frattesi told RAI Sport.

“We were under pressure, but overall it was a good performance. What mattered was that we qualified...

“We suffered, but it was important to get through. Now we’ll try to repeat something fantastic.”

The final score belied the true nature of the match, with Italy’s high-Octoberane attack and Ukraine’s counter-attacking threat creating several chances for both teams.

Ukraine had a late penalty appeal turned down, despite Italy midfielder Bryan Cristante looking to have made contact with Mykhailo Mudryk’s foot in injury time.

“From my point of view that was a penalty, but again I was not there and it’s only about my emotions,” Ukraine coach Serhiy Rebrov told a post-match press conference.

Italy travelled to Leverkusen knowing they would progress by avoiding defeat, while Ukraine knew only a win would suffice.

New Italy coach Luciano Spalletti has only been in charge for three months after Roberto Mancini surprisingly left for the Saudi Arabia national team job.

“We had to keep attacking - but Ukraine proved they are a very good team who gave us a lot of problems,” Spalletti, who led Napoli to their first Serie A title since 1990 last season, said.

Italy will go into either pot three or four for the tournament draw, which will take place on December 2 in Hamburg.

Spalletti added his team would “have a moment to pat ourselves on the back” before turning their focus to the finals in Germany, the site of their 2006 World Cup triumph.

“Now, the level will step up. Now, the fun begins.”

Midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo said his side’s nervy qualification campaign, which included two losses to England and a draw with North Macedonia, would not dampen their hopes of defending the title.

“We had the right motivation. Italy must go to the Euros not just to take part, but to compete as reigning champions.”

Ukraine head into play-offs

Ukraine, forced to take the fixture to Germany due to the ongoing conflict with Russia, can still qualify, but will need to navigate the play-offs in March 2024.

Mudryk was lively down the left for Ukraine and crafted a number of half-chances early, with his side denied by poor finishing.

Italy’s dominance of possession started to tell after half an hour, Federico Chiesa sliding a smooth pass across the face of goal which eluded a desperate Davide Frattesi.

Italy continued to attack early in the second half but as the game wore on the increasingly nervous Italians sat back, allowing Ukraine more space up front.

Mudryk was always a threat and appeared to have been brought down in the box after contact from Cristante, but the referee waved his team’s desperate pleas for a spot-kick away.

England's midfielder Jack Grealish fights for the ball with North Macedonia's midfielder Jani Atanasov during the Euro 2024 Group C match at National Arena in Skopje on Monday. Image Credit: AFP

England held by North Macedonia

Gareth Southgate insists England’s lacklustre finish to the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign will mean nothing when they start their bid to win the tournament in Germany.

Such are the expectations that Southgate is working under these days that qualifying with an unbeaten record from a potentially tricky group including Italy and Ukraine earned him few plaudits.

Being held to a 1-1 draw by North Macedonia on Monday meant England failed to beat a side as low as 66th in the Fifa rankings for the first time since 2016, when they drew with Slovenia.

But with a runners-up finish at the last European Championship in 2021, as well as World Cup semi-final and quarter-final appearances in the Southgate era, England’s status as one of the Euro favourites is well earned after six victories from their eight qualifiers.

And Southgate is confident England’s drab end to the qualifying campaign will prove nothing more than an irrelevant blip.

“The really big results were in March against Italy and Ukraine. It meant coming here was a completely different test,” he said.

“I thought that given we had already qualified and everything had been achieved the mentality of the players was excellent.

“The quality on the ball was good on a difficult pitch. Just that final pass or finish was difficult to find. But I thought there were lots of positive performances.”

One area of concern for Southgate could be his team’s struggle to pierce the massed ranks of North Macedonia and Malta’s defences over the last four days.

Southgate was without influential Real Madrid midfielder Jude Bellingham due to injury for both qualifiers, while England’s record scorer Harry Kane was left on the bench for the first 58 minutes against North Macedonia.

Only when Kane came on did England snatch their equaliser, an own goal from Jani Atanasov as he tried to stop the Bayern Munich striker turning in Phil Foden’s corner.

‘Plenty to think about’

Southgate will have noted his side took 65 minutes to manage their first shot in the 2-0 win against Malta at Wembley on Friday.

And although England had 75 percent of the possession against North Macedonia, they mustered only two shots on target, making it just the third time in the last 26 Euro qualifiers that they failed to take maximum points.

In truth, England’s lethargic displays over the last two games owed much to the dead rubber status of the matches and their scheduling amid a hectic programme of Premier League and Champions League fixtures.

But Southgate will still want improved performances in the friendlies against Brazil and Belgium in March.

By then, he will know the teams England will face in the group stage, with the point in Skopje ensuring they will be in the pot containing the top seeds.

“The next exciting bit is the draw at the beginning of December and we will see what the path looks like,” Southgate said.

Plotting how many of England’s emerging young talents to take to Germany will keep Southgate busy over the winter.

He was impressed with the way Manchester City’s teenage left-back Rico Lewis handled his debut.

Lewis’s composed display was all the more commendable after he was harshly adjudged to have fouled Bojan Miovski, conceding the penalty that brought North Macedonia’s goal when Enis Bardhi converted the rebound from his saved spot-kick.

“Rico was excellent. His composure with the ball and the way he responded to that setback, he’s a super footballer,” he said.

Crystal Palace centre-back Marc Guehi also caught Southgate’s eye.

“He has been excellent in every game and showed great composure, taking what I’ve seen from him at his club to international football. That’s not straightforward,” he said.

The jury remains out on Southgate’s experiment with playing Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield.

But, befitting his ambition of taking fourth-placed England to the top of Fifa’s world rankings, the manager is looking ahead with optimism.

“There are a lot of players to keep a track on. Trent again did an excellent job,” he said.

“Rico, Cole Palmer, there’s plenty for me to think about.”

‘England can be proud’

“Difficult game, we knew it would be and it was tough against a decent side playing on a pitch that is difficult to play our style of football on,” Kane, who came on in the second half, told Channel 4.

“If anyone was going to get a second (goal) it was us. We can be really proud of how the qualifying campaign has gone.” Full back Kyle Walker, who wore the captain’s arm-band for the first time, said England should have won the match.

“It’s been a short week, two games when we’ve already qualified,” he added. “It’s no excuses, we know we should be taking three points from here but it’s something to work on for the future.”

Jaroslav Silhavy-1700566565032
Czech Republic coach Jaroslav Silhavy watches during the Euro 2024 Qualifier Group E match against Poland on November 17. Image Credit: Reuters

Czech coach quits

Czech Republic finished second in Group E behind Albania - who drew 0-0 with the Faroe Islands on Monday - but their evening was overshadowed by coach Jaroslav Silhavy announcing his resignation immediately after the game.

“Even though we are happy now, we had already decided before the game not to continue,” the 62-year-old coach told Czech television.

His departure comes after three players, including West Ham United defender Vladimir Coufal, were sent home from the squad for having spent Saturday night at a nightclub.

Slovenia will appear at the Euro for the first time since 2000 after their 2-1 win at home to Kazakhstan in Ljubljana clinched second place behind Denmark in Group H.

Benjamin Verbic netted Slovenia’s late winner after Ramazan Orazov had netted for Kazakhstan to cancel out Benjamin Sesko’s penalty opener.

Kazakhstan would have qualified with a win but will instead now go into the play-offs as their hopes of appearing at first major tournament remain alive.

Denmark lost 2-0 in Northern Ireland, with Isaac Price and Dion Charles scoring, while Finland - who will be in the play-offs - won 2-1 away to minnows San Marino.

Brazil's foward Raphinha (right) controls the ball during a training session in Teresopolis, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Monday. Image Credit: AFP

Brazil ready for Messi’s Argentina

The fierce rivalry between Brazil and Argentina will hit fever pitch when Lionel Messi’s world champions face the struggling hosts in a mouth-watering South American World Cup qualifying clash in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday.

Five-time World Cup winners Brazil will rely on their fans in a sold-out Maracana stadium to give them an extra boost to recover after losing back-to-back games in the qualifying competition for the first time in their history.

As they struggle with injuries to key players like Neymar and Vinicius Jr, caretaker manager Fernando Diniz must resort to a young team against Argentina but one that he guarantees will stay true to Brazil’s identity even against a great like Messi.

“Sure, you can’t not worry about a player of that magnitude. But we have to play our game as we try to contain all the creative capacity he has,” Diniz told a press conference on Monday.

“Dealing with Messi is obviously different and you have to worry. It’s impossible not to worry about a player of his stature and the decision-making power he has.” Diniz said he expected a great but heated atmosphere at the Maracana, with the fans looking forward to Brazil avenging the Copa America final defeat by Argentina two years ago.

Winless in the last three games, Brazil have dropped to fifth in the South American standings on seven points from five games after losing 2-1 to Colombia on Thursday.

They are under heavy pressure as they prepare for long-time rivals Argentina, who top the standings on 12 points.

“I hope we play well and the fans can play along with the team creating a great environment,” Diniz said.

“We are prepared to play a team that, if they are not the best (team in the wold), they are one of the best. And they have been for a while, not just because they won the World Cup.

“They have players in the biggest leagues, used to the limelight. And there’s Messi ... It’s a team that’s been playing well for a long time, a winning cycle and one that has maintained its base.

“We acknowledge that and we’re going to prepare to do our best against a great opponent.”

The 2024 European Championship will be held in Germany from June 14-July 14. Following are the teams who have qualified for the tournament:


Qualified as hosts

Best performance: Winners (1972, 1980, 1996)

Previous appearances: 13


Qualified on October 13.

Best performance: Runners-up (1980)

Previous appearances: 6


Qualified on October 13.

Best performance: Winners (1984, 2000)

Previous appearances: 10


Qualified on October 13.

Best performance: Winners (2016)

Previous appearances: 8


Qualified on October 15.

Best performance: Group stage (1992, 1996, 2020)

Previous appearances: 3


Qualified on October 15.

Best performance: Winners (1964, 2008, 2012)

Previous appearances: 11


Qualified on October 15.

Best performance: Semi-finals (2008)

Previous appearances: 5


Qualified on October 16.

Best performance: Round of 16 (2020)

Previous appearances: 3


Qualified on October 17.

Best performance: Runners-up (2020)

Previous appearances: 10


Qualified on November 16.

Best performance: Third place (1964)

Previous appearances: 4


Qualified on November 16.

Best performance: Winners (1976)

Previous appearances: 5


Qualified on November 17.

Best performance: Group stage (2016)

Previous appearances: 1


Qualified on November 17.

Best performance: Winners (1992)

Previous appearances: 9


Qualified on November 18.

Best performance: Winners (1988)

Previous appearances: 10


Qualified on November 18.

Best performance: Quarter-finals (2020)

Previous appearances: 5


Qualified on November 18.

Best performance: Quarter-finals

Previous appearances: 5


Qualified on November 19.

Best performance: Runners-up (1960,1968)

Previous appearances: 5


Qualified on November 20.

Best performance: Winners (1968, 2020)

Previous appearances: 10


Qualified on November 20.

Best performance: Winners (1976)

Previous appearances: 10


Qualified on November 20.

Best performance: Group stage (2000)

Previous appearances: 1