Italy will defend its continental title at the 2024 European Championship, while Czechia and Slovenia also qualified Monday for next summer’s tournament in Germany. Twenty of the 24 participants have now been determined, with one more set to confirm its place on Tuesday.
Here are the four biggest takeaways from Monday’s slate of games:
Italy ekes by Ukraine to qualify
After beating North Macedonia last week, the Azzurri — already assured at least a spot in next March’s playoffs — knew that a draw against the Ukrainians Monday in Germany would be enough to qualify for Euro 2024.
Ukraine, despite being forced to play at Bayern Leverkusen’s home stadium because of Russia’s ongoing war with the country, gave the defending continental champ all it could handle. Italy booked its trip in the end with a scoreless draw, but Luciano Spalletti’s rode goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma’s four saves and perhaps a little bit of luck: the Ukranians had a late penalty shout when Mykhailo Mudryk went down in the box under a Bryan Cristante challenge in second half stoppage time. But the referee wasn’t swayed, and the video assistant didn’t intervene; replays appeared to show Cristante poking the ball away just before making contact with Mudryk:
The holders beat England in the final of the last Euro, and they certainly didn’t want to have to wait four more months for another crack at claiming a place at the 2024 event — not after shockingly failing to qualify for the last two World Cups.
Now that they’re in, retaining the trophy is the goal. It’s realistic, even coming off of perhaps the lowest point in its decorated history. As it proved in 2021, Italy can win any tournament — just as long as it actually gets in.
Slovenia reaches first Euro since 2000
The Slovenians have participated in two World Cups since their last appearance among their own continent’s best. That will chance next summer, when the south-central European nation of around two million people will compete at the Euro for the first time since 2000.
The hosts took a 1-0 lead over Kazakhstan Monday before conceding the equalizer in the second half.
Fortunately for them, Benjamin Verbic curled the winner home in the 86th minute to ensure his country’s first participation at a major tournament since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Meantime, Kazakhstan still has a chance to get in during the playoffs next year.
Czechia in for the eighth straight tourney
The Czechs haven’t played at a World Cup in almost two decades. But unlike Slovenia, they’ve been a consistent presence at the Euros; on Monday, they beat Moldova 3-0 to qualify for the eighth consecutive time. Winger David Douděra opened the scoring for Czechia less than 14 minutes into the contest. It stood up as the winner:
Czechia won despite sending three players home from camp for breaking team rules following last Friday’s 1-1 tie with Poland. And while they’re not thought of as a legitimate contender next summer, the country has had success in the event before, having won it as Czechoslovakia in 1976 and finishing runner-up as the Czech Republic 20 years later.
England far from convincing again
The bookies’ favorite to win European honors for the first time in 2024, already-qualified England has looked like anything but a world beater this month. After struggling to score for most of last week’s 2-0 win over Malta at Wembley, England needed another own goal — its second in two games — just to salvage a point in a 1-1 draw Monday at North Macedonia.
To be fair, it’s hard to draw too many conclusions from these matches, which longtime Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate used to experiment, test new players and rest some of his regulars. But England’s form is still something to keep an eye on in the build up to next summer’s main event.
Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United Statesmen’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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