Mon, Nov 19, 2007 - Page 19 News List

EURO 2008: World champs Italy qualify for Euro '08

GOOD NEWS, STEVE Israel's late winner against Russia means that England need only a draw against Croatia on Wednesday to qualify for the Euro 2008 tournament

AP , LONDON

Scotland fan Rod Stewart, left, smiles before the Euro 2008 Group B qualifying soccer match against Italy at Hampden Park, Glasgow, Scotland, on Saturday.

PHOTO: AP

World champions Italy qualified for the European Championship and took France along with them by beating Scotland 2-1 on Saturday on an injury-time goal by Christian Panucci.

Spain, Croatia, Poland and the Netherlands also advanced to next year's tournament in Austria and Switzerland. Defending champions Greece, three-time winners Germany, the Czech Republic and Romania had already qualified for the 16-team event. The final four spots are still be decided.

Israel scored a late winner to beat Russia 2-1, putting Croatia into the final tournament and keeping England in realistic contention. The English now just need to draw with Croatia on Wednesday, whereas a Russian victory in Tel Aviv would have meant almost certain elimination.

Making his 50th appearance for the Azzurri, veteran fullback Panucci headed in a free kick by Andrea Pirlo after Barry Ferguson's 65th-minute goal had equalized a goal scored by Luca Toni in the second minute.

The victory put Italy at the top of Group B with 26 points from 11 games. France are second with 25 points and Scotland have 24, having lost their 12th and final game. Italy still have to play the Faeroe Islands on Wednesday, when France visit Ukraine.

"We knew that we had to play a physical match and given the [wet] conditions even more so," Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said. "To say that they were marvelous is little. The credit goes to all the players. They deserve it after all they have given."

Scotland coach Alex McLeish was furious that the officials awarded Italy the late free kick that led to Panucci's winner.

"We didn't deserve to lose that game. We battered the Italians in the second half and they were dead men walking at the end," he said. "The set piece that led to the second goal was an unbelievable decision. Alan Hutton was in control of the ball and the guy's barged him down. How can that be a free kick to Italy? It's a terrible decision."

"Italy are a lucky team to go away from Hampden Park with a victory," he said.

Even with no chance of qualifying, Israel took a 10th-minute lead through Elyaniv Barda only for Diniyar Bilyaletdinov to level for Russia in the 61st.

Russia almost scored in the 90th, but Dmitry Sychev's shot hit the post with the goalkeeper beaten. Omer Golan captured the points for Israel with a breakaway goal three minutes into injury time.

The result put Group E leaders Croatia into the finals because Russia can't catch the Croats. It also means that the Russians remain two points behind England going into the final round of games on Wednesday. Although Russia should comfortably beat last-place Andorra, England now need only a point against Croatia at Wembley.

Group C is also going down to the final round of games, even though Greece were already sure of one of the spots before its 5-0 crushing of Malta.

Turkey came from behind to leapfrog Norway into second place by winning 2-1 in Oslo. Erik Hagen gave the Norwegians a 12th-minute lead and the home side appeared on course to guaranteeing a place.

But Emre Belozoglu and Kahveci Nihat hit back for the visitors, which now holds a one-point advantage over Norway going into Wednesday's matches. Norway should beat last-place Malta, but the Turks host Bosnia-Herezegovina.

Poland reached their first European Championship by beating Belgium 2-0 with goals by Euzebiusz Smolarek.

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