Northern Ireland ended their miserable Euro 2024 qualifying campaign on a high note with a 2-0 win over the Group H winners, Denmark.
Second-half goals from Isaac Price and Dion Charles got Windsor Park roaring again as Northern Ireland recorded only their third win of the year – and the first against anyone other than San Marino. The game was effectively a dead rubber, but this was still a welcome win for Michael O’Neill after a tough few months.
It was earned with two fine goals against a strong Denmark side. On the hour, Jamal Lewis spun away from his man and ran down the left, playing the ball inside to Dion Charles who shuffled it on to Shea Charles. The Southampton man then saw the run of midfielder Price, whose shot beat Kasper Schmeichel at his near post.
With nine minutes left, Conor McMenamin, just on as a substitute, burst down the left, beat Crystal Palace’s Joachim Andersen and played a low ball across goal for Dion Charles to sweep home. It was a good night for keeper Conor Hazard, too – the Plymouth stopper producing a number of big saves to preserve a clean sheet.
“You can see the young lads and you can see what it means to them,” O’Neill said afterwards. “We’ve been challenged in this campaign so they’ll take a lot from tonight. It’s a good result against a good team but that’s all it is … It’s a step in the right direction and we have to take more steps in the right direction.”
Finland are heading for the playoffs and ended their Group H campaign with a 2-1 victory in San Marino. Pyry Soiri scored twice for the visitors before Filippo Berardi’s stoppage-time penalty – the minnows’ third goal in their last three qualifiers.
Czechs and Slovenia secure their places
Czech Republic beat 10-man Moldova 3-0 to qualify for Euro 2024 – but their manager, Jaroslav Silhavy, announced his resignation soon after the match.
Moldova needed a victory in Olomouc to snatch automatic qualification from their hosts and started well without making many clear-cut chances. Tomas Chory set up the opener after 14 minutes, picking out David Doudera racing down the left flank. The defender got in behind and slotted past the outrushing Dorian Railean.
Vladislav Baboglo picked up a second yellow card early in the second half to hurt Moldova’s hopes of a comeback, before Chory powered home a header from Vasil Kusej’s corner in the 72nd minute. Tomas Soucek rounded off the scoring just before the final whistle – and news of Silhavy’s surprise departure.
“Even though we are happy now after the final whistle as we reached the finals, we as a staff team decided we will not continue,” Silhavy told reporters after the match. On Sunday, the manager had sent three players – including West Ham’s Vladimir Coufal – home from the team’s training camp after they were seen at a nightclub.
“I won’t say whether I was successful or not,” Silhavy, who had his contract shortened to the end of November during the qualifying campaign, with an option to extend if the team qualified. “The pressure was enormous, beyond comprehension at times. We have worked here for five years, and there’s nothing we should be ashamed of.”
The Czechs booked their eighth successive Euros appearance by finishing second in Group E to Albania, who were held to a goalless draw by the Faroe Islands. Elsewhere, Benjamin Verbic’s late winner earned Slovenia their first Euros finals berth since 2000 and ensured Kazakhstan must settle for a playoff place.
Kazakhstan needed to win in Ljubljana to earn a first-ever place at a men’s major tournament, but went behind when RB Leipzig’s Benjamin Sesko converted a penalty late in the first half. Ramazan Orazov levelled soon after the restart, turning home Maksim Samorodov’s low cross for his first international goal.
Slovenia held firm, Jaka Bijol seeing his shot blocked on the line by Islambek Kuat, before Verbic curled his shot into the corner in the 86th minute to spark wild scenes of celebration.