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European Leagues

Italy, Netherlands, Wales Aim To Secure Euro 2024 Qualification

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Reigning champions Italy are preparing for a decisive qualifier with Ukraine for a place at Euro 2024, while former winners the Netherlands and 2016 semi-finalists Wales are also aiming to book their tickets to the finals in Germany.

The last two rounds of qualifying matches take place over the next week, and a total of 12 countries will secure their spots in next month’s draw in Hamburg for the tournament to go with nine who are already guaranteed to be there.

Continental heavyweights Spain, France, England, Belgium and Portugal have already qualified along with hosts Germany, Turkey, Scotland and Austria for the 24-nation finals which will run June 14 to July 14 next year.

Italy, who beat England on penalties at Wembley in the final of the last European Championship in 2021 to claim the title for the second time, still have work to do to avoid missing another major tournament.

Having failed to qualify for either of the last two World Cups, there is a danger the Azzurri will not be in Germany to defend their title after a qualifying campaign during which coach Roberto Mancini quit either side of defeats home and away to England.

  • Ukraine aim to deny holders –
    Yet the equation is simple for the team now coached by Luciano Spalletti — whatever happens when they face North Macedonia in Rome on Friday, win against Ukraine in Germany next Monday and they will qualify.

A draw against Ukraine will suffice if they beat North Macedonia first. Lose their last game, on the other hand, and Ukraine will progress to the finals instead, while Italy will drop into the play-offs next March which will determine the final three qualifiers.

That is a scenario they will desperately want to avoid, having failed to qualify for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups after losing play-off ties to Sweden and North Macedonia respectively.

“We have to handle the fear. It will be there by our side as we go,” indicated Spalletti this week when asked about the high stakes facing his team in the Group C finale.

Meanwhile, there appears little prospect of the Netherlands failing in their bid to join France in qualifying from Group B.

A win at home to the Republic of Ireland in Amsterdam on Saturday will do the job for Ronald Koeman’s side. And if they slip up, they will have another chance when they face Gibraltar on Tuesday.

  • Croatia still in running –
    Assuming they do wrap up qualification, that will leave Euro 2004 winners Greece to settle for a place in the play-offs, as determined by their performances in the last UEFA Nations League.

Wales have recovered from a wobble as they adapt to life without Gareth Bale and are now hopeful of securing a spot at a third consecutive Euro finals.

Rob Page’s side appeared up against it in Group D following defeats by Armenia and Turkey in June, but a 2-1 win over Croatia in Cardiff last month, when Harry Wilson scored twice, has left them with qualification in their own hands.

Poland to miss out?

A win in Armenia on Saturday, and another at home to already-qualified Turkey three days later, will take them through.

“The mindset we’ve got is we can get a result against anyone. We’ve shown that,” said Wales captain Ben Davies.

Croatia are ready to take advantage of any slip-up by the Welsh, but otherwise the 2018 World Cup runners-up, and 2022 semi-finalists, will have to try again in the play-offs.

Other nations poised to qualify include Denmark, Hungary, Serbia, Slovenia and Slovakia, while Albania are set to go to a second Euro in three editions.

They need just a draw away to minnows Moldova on Friday in order to qualify from Group E, in which Robert Lewandowski’s Poland look likely to miss out.

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They, like Erling Haaland’s Norway, could at least still get into the play-offs, as they aim to avoid the fate of Sweden, the biggest nation to already be eliminated.

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European Leagues

Tella Helps Leverkusen Break Bayern’s Record After Win Against Mainz

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Nathan Tella was in action for Bayer Leverkusen who secured a hard fought 2-1 win against Mainz in the Bundesliga on Friday night.

Tella came on in the 83rd minute and helped Leverkusen hold on to their lead and claim the three points.

His Nigerian teammate Victor Boniface is still out with injury.

The win means Leverkusen stretched its lead to 11 points over champions Bayern Munich in the league table.

Also, Xabi Alonso’s men set a German record of 33 games unbeaten across all competitions.

Former Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka fired Leverkusen into a third-minute lead, after letting fly from outside the penalty area for his first goal on his 31st appearance for the club.

But Dominik Kohr replied for the visitors with a header at the other end four minutes later.

In the 68th minute Leverkusen went 2-1 up thanks to Robert Andrich’s harmless-looking shot which Mainz keeper failed to hold.

With 10 minutes left Mainz were reduced to 10 men when Jessic Ngankam was sent off after a VAR check for a dangerous tackle on Xhaka.

Bayern Munich could reduce the 11-point gap to eight if they beat Leipzig on Saturday.

Meanwhile, 11 rounds of fixtures would remain after this weekend.

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If I score, I won’t celebrate it – says Ramos ahead of Real Madrid clash

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Sergio Ramos will return to the Santiago Bernabeu for the first time since he left Real Madrid in 2021 to join PSG, when he lines up for Sevilla on Sunday.

The veteran defender won five La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues in his 16-year spell at Real, scoring 101 goals in 671 appearances.

Ramos, back at boyhood club Sevilla, says he will not celebrate if he scores.

“I wouldn’t celebrate but if I happen to score and it was enough for us to win I would be delighted, those three points would be very good for us,” Ramos told the La Liga website.

Ramos is aware of the difficulty of the match for Sevilla against the league leaders, Real Madrid, who approach the game after drawing in Vallecas and having a week without matches.

“Real Madrid is always the favorite to win everything. They’re in a good moment, leading the league, and have players of extraordinary magnitude and quality. We know very well the ground we’re going to step on, and we’ll try in one way or another to have a good game there,” he said.

he recalled how close they were in the first leg at the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán. “We played Madrid head-to-head, we had chances to win. Kepa made a very good save from my header that would have given us the victory. When the team is compact, we’re all together, we play with good intensity, and we press high, we’re a guerrilla team.”

Ramos didn’t reveal his plans for next season, proud of the decision he made to return to Sevilla after his adventure at PSG.

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Pep Guardiola admits Kevin De Bruyne is not ’100 per cent’

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The Belgian international sat out City’s 1-0 win over Brentford on Tuesday as the 32-year-old had some niggles. Ahead of Saturday’s trip to Bournemouth, Guardiola revealed De Bruyne “did not feel comfortable” playing against the Bees, but he is very likely to be in the squad for the clash against the Cherries.

The Spaniard told reporters on Friday: “He’s [De Bruyne] good – not injured. He’s better. I don’t know if he is 100 per cent but we took a good decision to not take a risk, apart from the result, if the result was not good, people would ask why he didn’t play. He didn’t feel comfortable.

“We have training at 4pm [Friday]. The day after the game he didn’t train and yesterday everyone was off, but he trained by himself. Today [Friday] we will assess. I am sure he will travel.”

City are still in the hunt for a second-straight treble (Champions League, FA Cup, Premier League) despite appearing to be at a lower level to where they were at this point last season. For much of the campaign they have been without the influential midfielder due to injury but when he is fit he makes a huge difference. Therefore, managing his minutes is key.

After City take on Andoni Iraola’s Bournemouth this weekend, Guardiola’s side travel to Luton Town in round five of the FA Cup on Tuesday. They then host rivals Manchester United on March 3 in the Premier League.

 

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