The Euro 2020 qualifiers produced drama, upset and history making moments. North Macedonia will make their first ever major tournament appearances while Scotland reached their first finals since 1998.
Northern Ireland suffered heartbreak and they were denied a place in the Euros by Slovakia in extra time. 2016 underdogs Iceland were also left deflated after giving up a one goal lead to lose to Hungary.
Georgia 0 – 1 North Macedonia
Despite only being considered an independent national team for a year, North Macedonia reached their first ever major final after beating Georgia in a narrow 1-0 victory at the Todor Proeski stadium.
Georgia had the better of the first half and looked the more likely to score as midfielder Tornike Okriashvili came closest with two long range efforts.
But, shortly after half-time, North Macedonia’s all-time goal-scorer and most capped player, Goran Pandev, scored the historic winner for the side ranked 68th in the world. Eljif Elmas raced down the left wing and passed across to Pandev, who poked the ball past Giorgi Loria on 56 minutes.
North Macedonia will now face a tough group in the 2020 Euros, which includes the Netherlands, Ukraine and Austria.
Northern Ireland 1 – 2 Slovakia
Northern Ireland narrowly missed out on their second consecutive European Championship after a late extra time winner from Slovakia substitute Michal Duris earned his side a place in the 2020 tournament.
The hosts had the better of the opening exchanges but gifted Slovakia the opener after 16 minutes when George Saville mistimed his header back to Jonny Evans, allowing Juraj Kucka to open the scoring.
Northern Ireland enjoyed spells of dominance in the game and were rewarded two minutes from time as Milan Skriniar turned the ball into his own net following a whipped cross from Paddy McNair.
Buoyed by the goal, Northern Ireland continued to attack and Kyle Lafferty almost won qualification for his side, smashing the post with a long-range effort with seconds remaining.
Slovakia seized on another mistake to score the winner in the 110th minute as the ball bounced off Evans and into the path of Duris, who struck a low shot past Bailey Peacock-Farrell. The goalkeeper was easily beaten at his near post and should have blocked the shot that sent Slovakia to their second successive Euro finals.
Hungary 2 – 1 Iceland
Two Hungary goals in the last 10 minutes completed a dramatic late comeback against 2016 quarter finalists Iceland.
The visitors opened the scoring after just 11 minutes when set piece specialist Gylfi Sigurdsson hit a dipping free-kick that was fumbled in by Hungary goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi.
But Dominik Szoboszlai was central to the host’s comeback, putting in a man of the match performance and constantly testing Iceland’s stubborn defence with relentless crosses and long-range efforts. He almost equalised before half time, just missing with a 25-yard free kick.
Hungary continued to press and scored with three minutes left Loic Nego pounced on a bouncing ball in the area and shot into the bottom corner to deflate Iceland. Five minutes later, Hungary secured their place in the Euros when Szoboszlai drove forward and curled in a low strike with seconds left in the match.
Hungary’s entry into Euro 2020 was a slight poisoned chalice as they enter the ‘group of death’ with Portugal, France and Germany.
Serbia 1 – 1 Scotland (Scotland win 5-4 on penalties)
Scotland were made to wait for their first major tournament appearance for 23 years after a late Serbia equaliser cancelled out Ryan Christie’s opener and took the game to penalties.
Christie’s well-taken goal on 52 minutes was well-desrved for the visitors, who dominated the match and kept Serbia quiet throughout. But the hosts scored against the run of play in the 90th minute when Luka Jovic headered a deep corner into the ground and over David Marshall to take the game to extra time.
The tension continued for 30-minutes of extra time, but Scotland held their nerve, scoring all five of their penalties while Marshall’s exceptional save from Aleksandar Mitrovic’s penalty sent the Tartan Army through the Euro 2020 finals.
Lyndon Dykes put in a man of the match performance for Scotland, working tirelessly and winning every aerial battle for his side to gain momentum throughout the match.
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