Euro 2016: Iceland qualify; Belgium, Bosnia notch wins
Iceland became the smallest nation to qualify for the finals of the European Championship thanks to a point from a goalless draw with Kazakhstan.
The Nordic island nation boasts an estimated population of around 329,100 people, and 23 of their number will be selected to compete at Euro 2016 in France next summer.
Six wins from their previous seven games proved to be a more than solid foundation and a further Group A point, secured against Kazakhstan in Reykjavik, got Iceland over the line.
They appeared nervy in the opening exchanges and failed to threaten the Kazakh goal until the 33rd minute, when Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s effort was blocked by Yuri Logvinenko.
They turned the screw in the minutes leading up to half-time, though, with the ball improbably staying out of the visitors’ net during a frantic goalmouth scramble.
Sigthorsson blasted over the crossbar just before the break, and it was time to put heads together and devise an alternative strategy.
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson went closer when play resumed, slamming the ball into Stas Pokatilov’s gloves from six yards out, and he would head over the bar on 70 minutes.
Captain Aron Gunnarsson denied himself the ability to celebrate as soon as the final whistle sounded at Laugardalsvollur, as he had only just finished walking down the tunnel having earned a second yellow card for fouling Aleksey Shchetkin.
He raced back onto the pitch to embrace his team-mates when full-time did come, however, as history had just been made on the edge of the North Atlantic Ocean.
Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-0 Andorra
Bosnia-Herzegovina cruised to a comfortable 3-0 win over minnows Andorra in their Group B Euro 2016 qualifier.
Ermin Bicakcic, Edin Dzeko and Senad Lulic all scored before half-time as Andorra slumped to a 52nd consecutive competitive defeat.
However, Bosnia had Everton midfielder Muhamed Besic sent off for shaping to throw something at an opponent just after the hour mark after being tripped, only for Victor Rodriguez to also be dismissed moments later.
Besic’s red card means he will miss next month’s visit of Group B leaders Wales.
Up to the dismissal it had all been plain sailing for the home side, who went ahead in the 14th minute after Bicakcic scored from Ermin Zec’s pass.
Lulic then provided the assist for Dzeko, on loan at Roma from Manchester City, on the half-hour with the former scoring himself right on half-time.
Cyprus 0-1 Belgium
Belgium laboured to a late 1-0 win over Cyprus to keep both qualification slots open in Group B.
Anything other than three points for the Europeans would have guaranteed leaders Wales passage through to the Euro 2016 finals and for a long time the Cypriots looked like doing Chris Coleman’s men a huge favour.
However, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard struck four minutes from time to ensure the outcome of the group will not be decided until the final round of matches next month.
It was a less-than-convincing performance from last year’s World Cup quarter-finalists as Cyprus more than held their own for long periods.
The island nation have lost eight and drawn one of their nine competitive meetings with Belgium but the one-sidedness of that record was not evident as Cyprus comfortably kept their opponents at bay.
In the first half Radja Nainggolan and Kevin De Bruyne, who was involved in most of the attacking play, both had chances to open the scoring while Constantinos Makridis had the hosts’ best chance only to screw wide a left-footed shot wide after cutting in from the right.
Half-time saw Belgian coach Marc Wilmots replace Liverpool’s £32.5million summer signing Christian Benteke with club-mate Divock Origi but it did little to add much sharpness to the attack.
Midway through the second half Nainggolan wasted another chance when he opted to shoot himself despite having team-mates in support after they countered from a Cyprus corner.
Thomas Vermaelen flashed a header wide from a corner while Vincent Laban floated a decent chance wide for the hosts but the breakthrough finally came in the 86th minute when De Bruyne’s crossfield pass from the halfway line released substitute Dries Mertens down the right and he crossed for Hazard to slot home.
Italy 1-0 Bulgaria
Italy moved a step closer to qualifying for the 2016 European Championship after beating Bulgaria 1-0 to go top of Group H, while Norway beat Croatia 2-0 to leapfrog into second place on Sunday.
Daniele de Rossi scored with a re-taken penalty in the sixth minute for Italy after Veselin Minev had tripped Antonio Candreva. De Rossi went from hero to villain when he was sent off in the second half, along with Bulgaria forward Iliyan Mitsanski, after both committed fouls in retaliation.
Italy has 18 points, two more than Norway. Croatia is a point further back but also likely to lose a point for fan trouble pending an appeal.
Italy had come in for criticism following Thursday’s dull 1-0 win over Malta and coach Antonio Conte rung the changes, bringing in Stephan El Shaarawy, Candreva and De Rossi, and dropping Andrea Pirlo to the bench.
El Shaarawy wasn’t even on the bench against Malta. But he almost had an instant impact when, within 50 seconds of kickoff, he sent a bicycle kick over the bar after Graziano Pelle had forced a desperate save.
It didn’t take long for Italy to score although De Rossi had to take his penalty again due to encroachment. The Roma midfielder coolly slotted his spot-kick into the bottom right corner both times, despite Bulgaria goalkeeper Bozhidar Mitrev guessing the correct way the second time.
De Rossi had scored on his Italy debut at the same stadium.
Italy was fired up and went close several times although it was almost caught out in the 19th minute and Gianluigi Buffon – making his 150th appearance for his country – needed to make a smart save to turn Mitsanski’s effort around his right post.
The match turned bad tempered 10 minutes after the interval when Mitsanski lightly stamped on De Rossi, who reacted by kicking up at him from the ground.
Both players were shown red cards.
Italy continued to squander chances and was almost made to pay for its profligacy but Buffon was again alert to parry Georgi Milanov’s powerful shot in stoppage time.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.