Reigning champion Italy is preparing for a decisive qualifier with Ukraine for a place at Euro 2024, while former winner the Netherlands and 2016 semi-finalists Wales are also aiming to book their tickets to the finals in Germany.
The last two rounds of qualifying matches take place over the next week, and a total of 12 countries will secure their spots in next month’s draw in Hamburg for the tournament to go with nine who are already guaranteed to be there.
Continental heavyweights Spain, France, England, Belgium and Portugal have already qualified along with hosts Germany, Turkey, Scotland and Austria for the 24-nation finals which will run June 14 to July 14 next year.
Italy, which beat England on penalties at Wembley in the final of the last European Championship in 2021 to claim the title for the second time, still has work to do to avoid missing another major tournament.
Having failed to qualify for either of the last two World Cups, there is a danger the Azzurri will not be in Germany to defend their title after a qualifying campaign during which coach Roberto Mancini quit either side of defeats home and away to England.
Ukraine aims to deny holders
Yet the equation is simple for the team now coached by Luciano Spalletti -- whatever happens when it faces North Macedonia in Rome on Friday, win against Ukraine in Germany next Monday and it will qualify.
A draw against Ukraine will suffice if it beats North Macedonia first. Lose its last game, on the other hand, and Ukraine will progress to the finals instead, while Italy will drop into the play-offs next March which will determine the final three qualifiers.
That is a scenario it will desperately want to avoid, having failed to qualify for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups after losing play-off ties to Sweden and North Macedonia respectively.
Meanwhile, there appears little prospect of the Netherlands failing in its bid to join France in qualifying from Group B.
A win at home to the Republic of Ireland in Amsterdam on Saturday will do the job for Ronald Koeman’s side. And if its slips up, it will have another chance when it faces Gibraltar on Tuesday.
Wales, Croatia still in running
Assuming it does wrap up qualification, that will leave Euro 2004 winners Greece to settle for a place in the play-offs, as determined by its performances in the last UEFA Nations League.
Wales has recovered from a wobble as it adapts to life without Gareth Bale and is now hopeful of securing a spot at a third consecutive Euro finals.
Rob Page’s side appeared up against it in Group D following defeats by Armenia and Turkey in June, but a 2-1 win over Croatia in Cardiff last month, when Harry Wilson scored twice, has left it with qualification in its own hands.
A win in Armenia on Saturday, and another at home to already-qualified Turkey three days later, will take them through.
Croatia is ready to take advantage of any slip-up by the Welsh, but otherwise, the 2018 World Cup runners-up, and 2022 semi-finalist, will have to try again in the play-offs.
Other nations poised to qualify include Denmark, Hungary, Serbia, Slovenia and Slovakia, while Albania are set to go to a second Euro in three editions.
It needs just a draw away to minnows Moldova on Friday to qualify from Group E, in which Robert Lewandowski’s Poland look likely to miss out.
Poland, like Erling Haaland’s Norway, could at least still get into the play-offs, as it aims to avoid the fate of Sweden, the biggest nation to already be eliminated.
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