European champion Italy took a big step Tuesday toward being able to defend its title. Spain and Belgium won easily on their path to Euro 2024. Sweden looks like it's failing to qualify for the first time in 28 years.
Romania and Kosovo managed to finish a game that risked being abandoned. Political pro-Serbia chants by home fans in Bucharest forced a 45-minute delay in the first half and players were taken back to their locker rooms.
After Romania risked forfeiting the game as a 3-0 loss, late goals earned a 2-0 win though the national federation now faces punishment in a UEFA disciplinary case.
Italy’s improved and more energetic performance survived Ukraine forward Andriy Yarmolenko cutting the lead before halftime.
Italy and Ukraine are tied on seven points — with North Macedonia, which beat Malta 2-0 but has the toughest schedule — trailing six behind England, who Spalletti’s team must face at Wembley Stadium next month.
A possible scenario is a decisive final-round game between Ukraine and Italy on Nov. 20: a place at Euro 2024 for one, and for the other uncertainty next March in the playoffs that stopped Italy going to the past two World Cups.
On the field, the Spanish men’s team has found a calm serenity in stark contrast to the scandalous furor surrounding its now-former federation president Luis Rubiales.
A 6-0 rout of Cyprus on Tuesday followed a 7-1 win at Georgia on Friday. In between, Rubiales finally resigned while suspended by FIFA and now under criminal investigation by Spanish prosecutors for alleged sexual assault against player Jenni Hermoso at the Women’s World Cup final on Aug. 20.
Coach Luis de la Fuente seems to have survived in his job despite ties to Rubiales and his players did their bit in Granada to show all is well within the men’s team.
Spain now trails six points behind group leader Scotland. Spain lost 2-0 in Glasgow in March and hosts the Scots next on Oct. 12 before playing its game in hand at Norway three days later.
Norway stars Erling Haaland and Martin Odegaard scored first-half goals Tuesday in a 2-1 win over Georgia to stay in outside contention for a top-two finish. The playoffs await Norway as a safety net.
Sweden does not have a playoff option and not much hope of a top-two finish trailing badly behind Belgium and Austria in Group F.
As Belgium cruised past last-place Estonia 5-0, Sweden slumped to a 3-1 home loss against Austria that left coach Janne Andersson insisting he would not walk away from the job he has held for more than seven years.
Sweden has qualified for six straight Euros since missing the 1996 edition but now is seven points behind the two leaders with three rounds left. Next up: away to Belgium on Oct. 16.
Belgian celebrations started early against Estonia with veteran defender Jan Vertonghen scoring a fourth-minute header in his 150th game for the Red Devils.
Romelu Lukaku scored twice in three second-half minutes to run his tallies to 77 goals in 110 national-team games. Belgium next goes to Austria on Oct. 13.
Switzerland, Romania and Israel are locked in a three-way battle for two qualifying places from Group I.
Romania captain Nicolae Stanciu went over to talk with fans who had chanted and displayed a banner with the “Kosovo is Serbia” slogan early in the game. Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008 is formally recognized by about 100 countries and the majority of European Union members though not Romania.
Late goals by Stanciu and Valentin Mihăilă, in stoppage time, sealed the win that proved even more important after Israel also found a goal in added time from Gabi Kanichowsky to beat Belarus 1-0.
The Swiss lead Romania by two points with Israel a point further back and each had four games left. Israel hosts Switzerland on Oct. 12.
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer
Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press