EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS 2008, qualification
It was a very good night last night for the English - not only did Israel beat Russia to keep alive England's hopes of qualification but Scotland's hopes of qualification ended with their defeat against Italy. Scotland, sitting second in a group which includes last year's World Cup finalists - France and Italy - needed a victory against World Champions Italy to qualify for Euro 2008. Scotland have won both their games against France oin this qualifying campaign - both 1-0 - and were confident of victory. But a very early goal for Italy, and a very late one, gave the World Champions victory, ending Scotland's hopes of qualifying for a major tournament for the first time since the 1998 World Cup and ensuring tht both France and Italy qualify.
As for Britain's other Home Nations, Northern Ireland kept alive their slim hopes of qualifying for a major tournament for the first time since the 1986 World Cup with a brilliant 2-1 victory over Denmark, England's hopes of qualification are still alive after Israel defeated Russia, and Wales and the Republic of Ireland, who are now unable to qualify for Euro 2008, drew 2-2....
Scotland are in despair
By ALEX MONTGOMERY
17th November 2007
SCOTLAND 1-2 ITALY
Ferguson 65......Toni 2
Scotland's Euro 2008 qualifying hopes were killed off by goals at the beginning and end of a pulsating 90 minutes at Hampden.
Luca Toni shot Italy in front in the second minute but Scotland recovered to dominate the second half and Barry Ferguson bundled home a 65th-minute equaliser.
Great start: Luca Toni puts the World Champions in front in just the first minute against Scotland last night
With the Scots having given everything, Italy captain Christian Panucci headed an injury-time winner after a controversial free-kick award on the edge of the penalty area. It meant that the world champions, and their under-pressure coach Roberto Donadoni, leapt above France to top of the group and Alex McLeish's brave Scots fell agonisingly short of next summer's finals.
Whatever tactical plan McLeish had designed was destroyed with Italy's opening goal after just 70 seconds. It was a crushing blow and it came through a combination of brilliant execution, aided by shocking defensive work. The main culprit was Alan Hutton, who seemed to be remonstrating with a ball boy for throwing the ball back into play too quickly. While Hutton and Scott Brown's attention was diverted, a Gianluca Zambrotta throw-in fell to Antonio Di Natale.
The little Udinese midfielder, who has made such a big impact on Serie A this season, crossed and the towering Toni drove in his 13th international goal.
It could not have been a worse time to concede. The feeling was that McLeish would stick by his previously pragmatic team plan and try to contain the Italians, then spring into counter-attack or try to gain opportunities from dead-ball situations. But the dreadful start clearly had a massive psychological effect on the Scots, and you could sense the morale being drained.
For a spell the Italians looked sharp and in total control. It took Scotland until the 14th minute to gather themselves well enough to construct some positive attacks when James McFadden won a corner.
From that little pocket of pressure they claimed a penalty when Zambrotta looked to have handled inside the box from a Lee McCulloch shot. It happened so quickly and without the benefit of an immediate playback, the Italian certainly looked to have diverted the ball with the lower part of his arm.
Referee Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez decided otherwise to the fury of the Scots players, the bench and the Tartan Army.
Just after that, Stephen McManus was extremely unlucky when he came upfield in attack and sent a header just wide. There was a decent looking Scotland move in the 29th minute — the best so far. Some intricate passing ended with McCulloch free and seemingly in position to score. But his shot came far too late and was easily gathered by a keeper of Gigi Buffon's world class.
Craig Gordon made an exceptional save in the 31st minute and when the rebound was blasted past him by Di Natale, it looked good enough to stand. For a split-second it appeared that Scotland were two down and out of it, but the Spanish referee took the advice of one of his assistants and ruled offside. Television showed later that at worst it was level.
Could this be the break Scotland needed? The Scots were a shadow of the team who had disposed, not without difficulty of course, of France twice and Ukraine. The midfield could make no impression on the match and McFadden was stranded up front, working hard but with nowhere near enough service.
For all the ferocity of some of the tackling, at least the exchanges were largely of a non-violent, professional type.
There were some nasties between David Weir and Toni, the most awkward of strikers to contain. They did go beyond acceptable combat on a couple of occasions and just before half-time, Toni was shown a yellow card for a foul on the veteran Scot. Seconds later, Weir thought he had scored with a looping header from a Ferguson corner but Andrea Pirlo headed the ball out from under the crossbar.
The Scots, though, had battled back into contention and then came the breakthrough they so desperately needed. It came after a fine run down the right by Hutton, who teased Zambrotta and was brought down 20 yards out. McFadden's free-kick was not one of his best but the ball was diverted to McCulloch, whose shot could only be blocked by Buffon.
Ferguson was on to it quickly, from an offside position it has to be said, and steered the ball over the line for his first goal for his country for five years. Luckily for the Scots, the officials decided it was not offside and they were right back in business.
But their massive effort on a rainsodden pitch ended in heartbreak when Hutton was barged over but the free-kick went to Italy. Panucci struck as the Scots failed to clear and the dream was over.
SCOTLAND (4-1-4-1): Gordon; Hutton, Weir, McManus, Naysmith; Hartley; Brown, Fletcher, Ferguson, McCulloch; McFadden. Subs: McGregor, Alexander, Caldwell, Pearson, Robson, Boyd, Miller.
ITALY (4-3-3): Buffom; Panucci, Cannavaro, Barzagli, Zambrotta; Gattuso, Pirlo, Ambrosini; Camoranesi, Toni, Di Natale. Subs: Amelia, Oddo, Chiellini, De Rossi, Perrotta, Iaquinta, Gilardino.
Standings of Britain's Home Nations
Italy - 26 points (qualified)
France - 25 (qualified)
Scotland - 24
Ukraine - 16
Lithuania - 13
Georgia - 10
Faroe Islands - 0
Scotland are out. Italy's last-gasp win at Hampden Park means they and France qualify. Italy avoid repeating their 1984 embarrassment of failing to qualify for a European finals despite being world champions.
Germany - 26 (qualified)
Czech Republic - 26 (qualified)
Republic of Ireland - 17
Wales - 14
Cyprus - 14
Slovakia - 13
San Marino - 0
Germany and the Czech Republic have qualified
Croatia - 26 (qualified)
England - 23
Russia - 21
Israel - 20
Macedonia - 14
Estonia - 7
Andorra - 0
England's qualification is back in their hands. Russia's last-gasp loss to Israel on Saturday means Steve McClaren's men will make it to Euro 2008 if they avoid defeat at Wembley against Croatia in their final game on Wednesday.
If England do lose, they are all but certain to crash out. Russia's final match is against group minnows Andorra - currently on a run of 29 successive Euro qualifying defeats - and a Russian victory will put them on 24 points, one ahead of a defeated England.
An England draw coupled with a Russia win means both teams finish on 24 points. England will qualify because teams which finish level on points are divided according to their head-to-head record. England have the edge on goal difference after their 3-0 win at home in London was followed by a 2-1 defeat away in Moscow.
Croatia have qualified by virtue of Russia's defeat in Israel, but their defeat to Macedonia on Saturday has opened up the possibility of England winning the group.
If England beat Croatia by a three-goal margin they will finish ahead of Slaven Bilic's side. A 2-0 win will also be enough as the head-to-head record between the sides will be level and so the group standings will be decided on goal difference - which will be superior for England.
A two-goal win in which England concede a goal (ie 3-1 or 4-2) will mean Croatia finish top by virtue of scoring an away goal in the head-to-head record. If Croatia lose by a single goal at Wembley, they will still finish top of top Group E.
Spain - 25 points (qualified)
Sweden - 23
Northern Ireland - 20
Denmark - 17
Latvia - 12
Iceland - 8
Liechtenstein - 7
The dream is still alive for Northern Ireland after the dramatic win over Denmark at a rain-soaked Windsor Park on Saturday. Spain's win over Sweden booked the Spaniards' place at Euro 2008. Spain's victory did Northern Ireland no favours as it means Nigel Worthington's side are relying on another result to make it to Austria and Switzerland. However, the equation for Wednesday is simple. If Northern Ireland win in Spain and Sweden lose to Latvia then they qualify. Any other combination of results means they miss out.
Scotland 1-2 Italy: Ticketless Scotland fans gather on Glasgow Green and around the country as they prepare to enjoy the action
With the anthems barely finished, Scotland's defence leave their posts and allow Luca Toni to net a crucial early goal
The Bayern Munich striker's effort is the eighth for his country and puts Alex McLeish's side on the backfoot from the off
The hosts fightback and see the talismanic James McFadden among those who test goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon
Shortly before the interval a great chance falls to David Weir (not pictured) but his header is cleared by Andrea Pirlo
The equaliser arrives in the 65th minute when Barry Ferguson bundles home after Buffon only parries Lee McCulloch's shot
The captain's delight is there for all to see as he celebrates his first international goal at Hampden, his third in total
Scotland push for a second but see McFadden spurn two great chances as the sides stay level
The misses prove costly as a harshly awarded free-kick is headed home by Christian Panucci (left) in injury time
Italy's win takes them and France through but brings Scotland's otherwise glorious campaign to an end
Israel 2-1 Russia: In Tel Aviv an England fan shows his colours as he mingles with supporters of the side he hopes will lose
Elyaniv Barda's 10th-minute goal gives Israel the perfect start and raises the hopes of England fans around the world
The score stays the same until the 61st minute when Russia level courtesy of Diniyar Bilyaletdinov
Russia go for the win but see Omer Golan steal it for Israel instead - England now only need to draw with already-qualified Croatia, at Wembley on Wednesday, to qualify
Northern Ireland 2-1 Denmark: Nicklas Bendtner puts Denmark ahead but Warren Feeney hits back with an equaliser
And David Healy's spectacular winner means Northern Ireland end the match with their slim chance of qualifying still intact
Wales 2-2 Rep of Ireland: Jason Koumas (right) scores the opener for Wales with a well-placed header in the 23rd minute
Their lead is cancelled out eight minutes later when the Republic of Ireland's Robbie Keane coolly lifts the ball over Wayne Hennessey
On the hour, Stephen Hunt (centre) comes off the bench and crosses for Kevin Doyle who nips in to score from close range
With time almost up, Paul McShane is adjudged to have fouled David Cotterill and Koumas converts the resulting penalty