Following last week’s matches, we now know the first team that made it through the play-offs for next year’s European Championship. Hungary qualified for their first major tournament since 1986, after surprisingly defeating Norway in both legs. I say “surprisingly” because Norway were one of the better teams in the Qualifiers. They won six out of ten games and needed just two more points to avoid the play-offs. Hungary won 1-0 in Oslo on Thursday, thanks to a Laszlo Kleinheisler goal, in the 26th minute. Less than a quarter of an hour into the return leg in Budapest, Tamas Priskin opened the scoreline. Markus Henriksen piled even more misery onto the visiting side, by scoring an own goal, with seven minutes to go. He managed to pull one back and get some sort of consolation, in the 87th minute.
Bosnia and Herzegovina hosted Republic of Ireland Friday, in Zenica. Robbie Brady found the net eight minutes from time and it looked like the Irish would get a precious away win. Ex-Manchester City star Edin Dzeko had other plans, however, and equalized just three minutes later. Bosnia and Herzegovina barely made it to the play-offs. They had a late wake-up, winning their final three Group B games and finishing ahead of Israel. If Bosnia and Herzegovina manage to qualify for Euro 2016, it will be their first appearance in a European Championship, while Republic of Ireland have featured in two previous tournaments. The second leg of their tie will be played Monday, in Dublin.
Saturday’s first meeting was between Ukraine and Slovenia, in Lviv. Facing the lowest-ranking team in the play-offs, the Ukranians got their first ever win against the Slovenians. In doing so, they somewhat avenged their failure to make it past the Balkan team in the play-offs for Euro 2000. Incidentally, Slovenia are coached by the same man who was coaching them 16 years ago. Playing without the injured Ruslan Rotan, Ukraine put the first one past the Slovenian keeper in the 22nd minute, through Andriy Yarmolenko. Yevhen Seleznyov made it 2-0 nine minutes after the break, putting his side in strong position to reach Euro 2016. The return leg in Maribor is scheduled for Tuesday.
Sweden v Denmark, arguably the most anticipated (and most balanced) tie of these play-offs, saw star Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his teammates grab a 2-1 win in Solna. Emil Forsberg put the hosts in front in the final minute of the first half. 34 years old and probably facing his last chance to feature in a European Championship, Ibrahimovic scored from the penalty spot, doubling Sweden‘s lead in the 50th minute. The Paris Saint-Germain forward scored his first goal in seven games played against Denmark. The visitors kept their qualification hopes very much alive thanks to a late effort by Nikolai Jorgensen, who made it 2-1 with just ten minutes to go. European Champions in 1992, Denmark are more than capable of overcoming the one goal deficit in the return leg, scheduled Tuesday, in Copenhagen. Back in 2009, in the same venue, Denmark defeated Sweden 1-0 to make it to the 2010 World Cup.