Reigning champions Italy secured their ticket for Euro 2024 on Monday after holding on for a nervy goalless draw against Ukraine in their final qualifier, while the Czech Republic and Slovenia also clinched places at next year’s finals.
Italy only needed the draw in a game played in Leverkusen, Germany, in order to qualify but a defeat against their direct rivals in Group C would have left their fate to be decided in play-offs next March. That was a scenario they desperately wanted to avoid following the trauma of failing to qualify for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups after losing in play-offs, either side of winning the last European Championship in 2021.
The high stakes made it a tense occasion and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma had to produce a firm hand low down to keep out an early Georgiy Sudakov strike.
However, Luciano Spalletti’s side threatened at the other end with Ukraine ‘keeper Anatoliy Trubin saving from Nicolo Barella and racing out to deny Davide Frattesi before the half-hour mark.
Donnarumma blocked a Mykhailo Mudryk attempt in the 65th minute and there was a flashpoint in stoppage time when the Ukraine winger went down in the Italy box under a Bryan Cristante challenge, but no penalty was given. The two nations finish level on 14 points behind England in Group C, but Italy have the better head-to-head record having won 2-1 in Milan in September. — AFP