England MUST beat Malta and North Macedonia to ensure a top seeding of or Euro 2024, it’s win or bust for Wales and Italy’s hopes are hanging by a thread… breaking down the crunch fixtures in the final round of qualifiers
- The final batch of Europan group qualifying games gets underway this evening
- England are aiming for a top seeding to streamline their tournament next year
- City had their pants pulled down by a development team – It’s All Kicking Off
International football is back in town with lots to play for as we head into the final group qualifier games for the 2024 European Championships.
Twenty-four dreaming squads will take the plunge in Germany next summer and the identities of 15 of them are yet to be decided.
England and Scotland have both already qualified but will want to finish at the top of their groups to try and ensure the best possible seeding for the final tournament.
Wales’ fate hangs in the balance as they grapple with Croatia for second place in Group D, knowing they are not guaranteed a play-off place after their Nations League debacle.
Italy and the Netherlands are also at risk of not qualifying automatically – Italy are currently third in England’s group and three points off Ukraine, while the Netherlands are in a dogfight with Greece for second in Group B.
Twenty teams from across ten groups will get an automatic ticket to the final tournament, but only three of 12 can advance via the play-offs, which depends on their Nations League ranking.
Mail Sport rounds up the major talking points you need to look out for this international break.
Wales in jeopardy but also in driving seat
Wales currently sit second in Group D on ten points after six games. So do Croatia. Armenia aren’t far behind on seven.
With group leaders Turkey already through with their feet dry, only one of them can advance to the European Championships automatically.
This is especially significant for Wales who, having finished bottom of their Nations League group, have no chance of making the play-offs. It’s win or bust for Rob Page’s men.
Wales secured a vital 2-1 win over Croatia to go second in the group but must stay in the top two to go to the Euros
Harry Wilson bagged a double to put the 2018 World Cup finalists to the sword in October
Their final two games see them travel to Armenia and host Turkey, two difficult match-ups.
The saving grace is that Wales are above Croatia due to their head-to-head record, having drawn against them and beaten them – the latter thanks to a Harry Wilson double.
It means that as long as they keep pace with Croatia over these last two games, they will be going to Germany.
Croatia already have a play-off spot thanks to their Nations League Group win.
England and Scotland fight for top seeding
England and Scotland don’t need to worry too much – they are already through, after all. The Three Lions’ 3-1 win over Italy sealed them qualification and showed how the tables have turned since the Euro 2020 final, where they looked uninspired.
But that’s not the full picture. These final games are not dead rubbers.
Alongside hosts Germany, five seeding spots are up for grabs for the best qualifiers.
Going into the final batch of fixtures, Portugal, Slovenia, Denmark, France, and Belgium all have more points than England.
England qualified for the Euros with a 2-1 win over Italy, but still have work to do to earn a favourable seeding
Scott McTominay’s goal haul has helped Scotland to the Euros already, but can they clinch the best seeding possible?
That’s why Gareth Southgate’s men must beat Malta and North Macedonia – to give themselves the best chance possible of getting in that top six and avoiding being drawn with a behemoth when it comes to the draw for Germany.
Victories against them should be enough to gain a top seeding spot – Denmark and Slovenia are in the same group, while they have a better goal difference than Romania and Turkey, who are also in the running.
After a 2-0 defeat to Spain in their last qualifier, Scotland’s hopes of qualifying as a top seeded team are slim, but that shouldn’t take away from their tremendous achievement.
Steve Clarke’s side won their first five games in the group, navigating a tricky away assignment at Norway to win 2-1 and bagging a 2-0 win over Spain at home.
THE NINE TEAMS ALREADY QUALIFIED FOR EURO 2024
Nine teams have already qualified for next summer’s Euros.
Germany, as hosts, are of course given an automatic place.
They will be joined by:
Italy’s battle for automatic qualification with Ukraine
After failing to reach the last two World Cup, the victors of the last Euros won’t be feeling so supreme if they miss out on a golden ticket to Germany.
Their world-record 37-game unbeaten run under Roberto Mancini is a fary cry from their lukewarm form of today, as they sit third in Group C.
Gli Azzurri are three points off second-placed Ukraine with a game in hand, with matches against North Macedonia and the invaded nation left to play.
Luciano Spalletti’s men earned a critical 2-1 win over Ukraine in September as Davide Frattesi stepped up to the plate with a double to clinch the three points.
Italy’s hopes of getting to Germany automatically from the groups are hanging by a thread
Ukraine have put on a spirited show and can seal qualification with a win over Italy at home
The equation for them is simple. Regardless of how their match against North Macedonia plays out, if they beat Ukraine, they go through.
If they lose, they will have to face the play-offs, earned due to their Nations League Group win.
A draw would be sufficient if they beat North Macedonia and go level on points with Ukraine.
Failure to qualify for a major tournament would be a significant failure so early in Spalletti’s reign, especially after he left the comforts of Serie A-winning Napoli. However, he inherited a struggling side from Mancini and will be aware that this is a rebuilding project.
Netherlands must tie up loose ends as Greece hope for a miracle
The Netherlands and Greece are tied on points but the Netherlands have a game in hand and are ahead of their opponents in the head-to-head metric.
All sensible predictions point to Oranje getting the three points they need given their final clashes against Ireland and Gibraltar, who are yet to ever get a point in Euros qualifying.
The Netherlands would have to slip up seriously to throw away automatic qualification
Greece have lost both games to the Netherlands and are staring down a play-off campaign
Greece’s only opportunity to pick up points is against France and then they’re asking for the Netherlands to slip up, so the likelihood is that the 2004 champions will have to negotiate a tricky play-offs campaign.
They’ll get that chance because they topped their Nations League group, but the fact that they’re in League C means they’ll be given a tough assignment and making Germany 2024 could be a tall order.
Still, they’ve got pedigree of surprising in this competition.
Heated footraces for qualification
A couple of the lower-profile groups present some intriguing storylines.
Group E is wide open, with Albania, Czech Republic, Poland, and Moldova all separated by four points.
Poland face a tussle to qualify automatically and failure to do so would be embarrassing
Poland are at real risk of missing out as they have just one match left to play, but they should be extended an olive brance in the play-offs.
All the same, failing to qualify automatically would be ignominious for the group favourites, but could a team like Moldova benefit and qualify for their first-ever tournament as a result? They have crunch ties against Albania and Czech Republic to win their place.
Meanwhile, Kazakhstan are looking to qualify for their first international tournament but sit four points behind Slovenia and Denmark. A match against San Marino should give them three points. Pulling off a shock against Slovenia in their final game could see them make history.
IT’S ALL KICKING OFF!
It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football, launching with a preview show today and every week this season.
It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube , Apple Music and Spotify
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