A Qatar scenario threatens Italy. The European defending champion missed out on the World Cup and still has to work hard for the European Championship on the final match day.
The tension will be palpable on Monday evening in Leverkusen, where a direct match for second place in Group C is planned. The Italians need a draw against Ukraine – which has to move to Germany due to the war in their own country – to qualify for the European Championship. If the Azzurri lose, Ukraine itself will advance.
After missing the World Cup in Qatar last winter, the European defending champion cannot afford to miss another major tournament, although national coach Luciano Spalletti does not want to think about that doomsday scenario. “We go to Germany with the attitude to win this match and play the way we trained and discussed,” he sounded confident. Not illogical, because Italy has never lost to Ukraine. The balance: two draws and seven wins in favor of the Italians.
Spalletti does not want to see an anxious team between the lines against Ukraine. “Many want to scare us by reminding us of the importance of this match, but our motivation goes beyond fear. We should not wonder whether we should win, but whether we can win. The answer to that question is ‘yes’. We want to make the Italians fall in love with this team again. It’s the right match to get one step closer to that goal.”
Italy and Ukraine are not the only countries that have not yet confirmed their participation in next summer’s European Championship. In Group D, Croatia and Wales are still fighting for a ticket. The Czech Republic and Moldova play each other in Group E for the last European Championship spot. And Slovenia can compete against direct competitor Kazakhstan on Tuesday to disappear into the pots of the European Championship draw.
Yet this weekend also brought relief for several other countries in the European Championship qualifying round. For example, our northern neighbors the Netherlands qualified for the European Championship on Saturday after a dry 1-0 win against Ireland. There was also good news for Switzerland, Romania, Serbia and Denmark – where Anderlecht midfielder Thomas Delaney scored the winning goal against Slovenia. (vva)