The final four places at UEFA EURO 2012 have been decided after Croatia, Czech Republic, Portugal and Republic of Ireland all came out triumphant following their play-off second legs to ensure they will travel to Poland and Ukraine next year.
Portugal were forced to dig deep by Bosnia-Herzegovina, while the Croats, Czechs and Irish were all big winners in the first legs on Friday night and each consolidated their lead in the return, with little sign of a miraculous comeback from any of their opponents. FIFA.com reviews the final, vital, qualifiers.
The big game
Portugal 6-2 Bosnia-Herzegovina
These two sides know each other well, having met in the play-offs for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, when Portugal won both legs 1-0. Bosnia-Herzegovina have made terrific strides since then, however, and came mighty close to toppling France and grabbing first place during the group stages. A scrappy first leg, played on a difficult surface, ended 0-0 and left the tie completely in the balance for this return meeting in Lisbon and it did not disappoint.
Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo gave his country the lead with just eight minutes played and the advantage was quickly doubled by fellow forward Nani 15 minutes later. The Bosnians are nothing if not tenacious, though, and they equalised from the penalty spot shortly before half-time, Zvjezdan Misimovic converting after Fabio Coentrao was penalised for handball. When Ronaldo bagged his second and the hosts’ third, just a minute before Senad Lulic was dismissed for two quickfire bookings, it looked all over for Safet Susic’s men. But back they came, captain Emir Spahic again reducing their arrears to a single goal. Portugal refused to give it up, however, and a brace from Helder Postiga sandwiched a Miguel Veloso strike to finally ensure Portugal’s place at EURO 2012.
The other matches
Croatia 0-0 Turkey
Slaven Bilic’s side were imperious in Turkey last week and so emphatic was their 3-0 away win that they merely had to avoid any mistakes in the home leg. The Turks, who entertained greatly during their run to the semi-finals in 2008, faced a mountain to climb but never really looked like reducing their deficit in Zagreb despite hitting the post. A goalless stalemate was enough to qualify Croatia for the continental tournament for the third consecutive edition, while Turkey coach Guus Hiddink suffered play-off heartbreak again following Russia’s exit in the South Africa preliminaries.
Montenegro 0-1 Czech Republic
Goal: Petr Jiracek (81)
Czech Republic held a solid advantage coming into their second leg with Montenegro, who had pushed England so close during the group stage. The Three Lions found the going difficult when they travelled to Podgorica and Montenegro were hoping a frenzied atmosphere could spur the side on to another surprise result. But the hosts failed to match their previous exertions despite piling on pressure throughout the game, with a late goal for the visitors from Petr Jiracek adding to the two secured in Prague on Friday. After finishing second behind Spain and holding off Scotland before the play-offs, Michal Bilek’s transitional side can now make plans in earnest for next summer.
Republic of Ireland 1–1 Estonia
Goals: Stephen Ward (31), Konstantin Vassiljev (57)
It is typical of a Republic of Ireland fan’s cautious approach to their national team that many refused to believe that their tie with Estonia was done and dusted before tonight, despite the boys in green having outclassed their opponents 4-0 on Friday. Manager Giovanni Trapattoni was equally measured in the build-up to the match, insisting that there was still work to be done at the Aviva Stadium. However, an early goal from Stephen Ward calmed even the most pessimistic of supporters and the Irish could begin a party which they will keep going up to and throughout the tournament. A second-half consolation from Konstantin Vassiljev was probably the least the visitors deserved after a hard-fought and inspiring qualification campaign, but it is the Irish and their Italian manager who will add some extra fun to proceedings when the finals kick off.
Player of the day
Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
At times criticised for not replicating his form at club level with his national team, Cristiano Ronaldo produced the goods when it mattered most for Portugal. Having opened the scoring minutes into the match with a classy free-kick from distance, the much-heralded forward added his second and Portugal’s third, helping his team on their way to an eventually comfortable victory with a glittering performance.
Goal of the day
Portugal-Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nani (2-0, 24th minute)
Manchester United winger Nani has developed a trademark for scoring sensational goals from outside the box and having done so several times for his club already this season, he struck another for his country. Picking the ball up around 25 yards from goal, the 24-year-old hit a vicious, dipping effort which left visiting goalkeeper Asmir Begovic no chance and doubled his side’s lead.
2 – Republic of Ireland have qualified for the European Championship for only the second time in 14 attempts. Their only previous appearance at the tournament came at EURO 1988, when they finished third in a group containing old rivals England – who they famously beat 1-0 – and eventual winners the Netherlands.
Have Your Say
Which of these four final qualifiers do you think can have the greatest impact at the tournament in Poland and Ukraine?