Wales have booked their place in their first ever European Championships, despite falling to a 2-0 defeat in Bosnia on Saturday night.
Chris Coleman’s side knew they would book their place at Euro 2016 with just one more point from their last two qualifiers, but it looked as though they may have to wait until Tuesday when Bosnia and Herzegovina scored twice in the last twenty minutes to record a 2-0 win. This kept their chanced of a playoff place alive when they travel to Cyprus in midweek.
Yet this defeat ultimately meant did little to dent Wales’ hopes, as Israel’s 2-1 defeat at home to the Cypriots ensures they can no longer finish higher than second. So although they will likely have to settle for runners-up spot in Group B, it is still a magnificent achieved for a nation who have only ever appeared in one Finals before, and that was the World Cup of 1958.
“It’s really strange, I’ve never been so happy to lose 2-0,” Coleman said. “Obviously when I was walking off I saw our supporters singing and then our secretary, Mark Evans, whispered in my ear that Israel had lost, so it was game on after that, all smiles. It probably won’t sink in for a few days because we’ve waited so long. In my career it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever achieved.”
Belgium look certain to top the group, as most had expected when the draw was made. Marc Wilmots’ team leapfrogged the Welsh into pole position with a 4-1 rout of Andorra and will confirm their standing if they beat Israel on Tuesday. However, the latter may still cause a surprise, as they battle Bosnia and Cyprus for the third-place finish which would clinch a playoff spot.
Italy made certain of their place in France when they beat Azerbaijan 3-1 in Baku. They remain two points ahead of Norway, who beat Malta 2-0 to make it three wins in succession. Already assured of at least a playoff place, Per-Mathias Hogmo’s side travel to the Group H leaders on Tuesday, when Croatia, who could pip them to second spot, travel to bottom side Malta.
In perhaps the group which will attract most interest in the final round of fixtures, Holland and Turkey both face a nail-biting finale for the playoff place in Group A where Iceland and Czech Republic have qualified automatically. The Dutch beat Kazakhstan on their travels 2-1, whilst the Turks caused something of a surprise with a 2-0 win against the already qualified Czechs.
Holland will host Czech Republic, but Turkey need just a point against group leaders Iceland to be sure of a playoff place. This would result in Danny Blind’s side, champions of Europe in 1988, missing out on a major tournament for the first time since the 2002 World Cup.