Euro 2020 qualifiers go to the wire with new faces and penalty shoot-out heroes emerging

October 9 – On a night of nerve-shredding action, Serbia reached the Euro 2020 playoff finals Thursday with a 2-1 away win away over Norway after extra time while seven other nations joined them across four different groups in what promises to be a series of thrilling head-to-head climaxes next month.

The Serbians, for whom Lazio midfielder Milinkovic-Savic scored his first two international goals, will face Scotland – fortuitous penalty shootout winners over Israel after being second best for long periods of a 0-0 draw – on November 12 for a berth at next year’s delayed tournament to be held across Europe.

Scotland got through despite losing three players at the 11th hour following UEFA-mandated Covid-19 tests. Midfielder Stuart Armstrong tested positive, as did Kieran Tierney and Ryan Christie who were classed as “close contacts”.  Israel, too, were missing two regular starters but just missed out.

Scotland last qualified for a major tournament in 1998. “It’s a big chance. We spoke about hopefully making a small piece of history for the team,” said manager Steve Clarke. “We still have that in front of us. That was the objective, to make sure we are in the final next month and we have achieved that.”

Teams in the playoffs won their Nations League groups, or had a high placing, two years ago and then did not advance to Euro 2020 directly from the traditional qualifying groups.

There were two other dramatic penalty shootouts as Northern Ireland upset Bosnia 4-3 after holding them to a 1-1 draw in regular time, while Slovakia dashed hopes of an all-Ireland playoff final as they sneaked home 4-2 shootout in a shootout win over the Republic of Ireland who deserved to go through over the 120 minutes but couldn’t take their chances in another 0-0 draw.

Elsewhere Hungary beat Bulgaria 3-1and Iceland edged out Romania 2-1. In Group D featuring the less heralded nations of Europe,  North Macedonia overcame Balkan neighbours Kosovo 2-1 and will now visit Georgia, who beat Belarus 1-0. Whoever wins that will be set for their maiden major tournament.

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