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FIFA approves Simunovic switch from Croatia to Bosnia

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has approved a change of nationality for Croatia-born defender Jozo Simunovic to represent Bosnia-Herzegovina in its push to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

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FIFA says it informed the Bosnian federation on Tuesday that its players’ status panel granted the request to change eligibility.

The 22-year-old Simunovic has Bosnian family roots but represented neighboring Croatia at youth level.

Simunovic could switch teams under FIFA rules because he never played a competitive game for Croatia’s senior team.

The Celtic player can now be selected next month in Bosnia’s squad for World Cup qualifying games away to Cyprus and Gibraltar.

Bosnia is third in its group, one point behind Greece in the runners-up spot, which can earn a playoff place.

EURO 2016: Jonathan Walters the hero as Ireland qualify

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Come on down, the Republic or Ireland, you’re the next contestant to qualify for the 2016 European Championship in France, following your 2-0 second-leg playoff victory (3-1 on aggregate) over Bosnia-Herzegovina on Monday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s EURO coverage ]

Oh, to be inside (and eventually outside) a Dublin pub this evening…

Ireland grabbed their second goal of the two-leg tie through a rather questionable penalty decision, given for handball against Senad Lulic in the 18th minute. Stoke City midfielder Jonathan Walters stepped up and converted the spot kick, sending Chelsea goalkeeper Asmir Begovic sprawling to his left and calmly rolling the ball just inside the opposite post.

With 20 minutes left in regular time and a single Bosnian goal threatening extra time, it was once again Walters who popped up at the most opportune of moments and places, to hammer home a free volley at the far post after Robbie Brady‘s header was sent looping high into the air.

EURO 2016 will represent Ireland’s third all-time appearance (1988 and 2012) at the European Championship, and the sixth major tournament qualification (1990, 1994 and 2002 World Cup) in their history, all of which have been achieved since 1988.

Euro 2016 playoff preview: Sweden vs. Denmark headlines quartet of ties

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The final four Euro 2016 berths will be decided in the next week, as eight teams jockey for those coveted summer spots in France.

[ MORE: Cameron backs Klinsmann ahead of World Cup qualifiers ]

Let’s take a look at the quartet of ties headed our way this week and next.

Hungary vs. Norway – Thursday and Sunday

FIFA ranks: Hungary 33, Norway 46
History: Norway is 3-0. Most recent meeting Nov. 2012.

Scuttlebutt: This has a chance to be a thrilling two-legged tie, and MLS fans will be excited to see Sporting KC’s Krisztian Nemeth throw down for his country, a side that also has familiar named Zoltan Gera and Adam Bogdan. Norway’s well-rounded team is led in part by Borussia Monchengladbach defender Håvard Nordtveit and Celtic midfielder Stefan Johansen.

Bosnia & Herzegovina vs. Republic of Ireland – Friday and Monday

FIFA ranks: BNH 20, Ireland 42
History: Ireland won at home in 2012.

Scuttlebutt: The Irish will be without John O'Shea and Jonathan Walters for leg one in Zenica, but the weight of this tie is heavy on the favorites. BNH was tagged by many as the dark horses of the 2014 World Cup, only to finish third in its group. Now it could miss the next major tournament, and is missing Muhamed Besic for leg one.

Ukraine vs. Slovenia – Saturday and Tuesday

FIFA ranks: Ukraine 28, Slovenia 64
History: Met twice in 1999, with Slovenia 1W-1D.

Scuttlebutt: Ukraine is without suspended Oleksandr Kucher and Taras Stepanenko for leg one, which comes at home on Lviv. Slovenia is on the brink of missing a second-straight major tournament.

Sweden vs. Denmark – Saturday and Tuesday

FIFA ranks: Sweden 45, Denmark 35
History: Denmark 22W-5D-9L; Sweden’s last win: April 2000

Scuttlebutt: A juicy Scandinavian rivalry could see Zlatan Ibrahimovic miss a second-straight major tournament, and that certainly does not qualify as “Daring to Zlatan”. But a Danish absence would be a Euro without Christian Eriksen, Kasper Schmeichel, Daniel Agger (see above: he had a lot fewer tattoos in 2009) and… Nicklas “Lord” Bendtner.

EURO 2016 qualifying roundup: Iceland beat Netherlands (again), are all but qualified

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A recap of Thursday’s action in 2016 European Championship qualifying:

Netherlands 0-1 Iceland

Tiny, tiny Iceland (population: roughly 320,000) are all but qualified for next summer’s European Championship in France after their second defeat of the Netherlands during Group A play. After beating the Dutch at home in October, Strakarnir Okkar (Our Boys) snatched the return leg on Thursday, thanks to Gylfi Sigurdsson’s 51st-minute penalty kick.

With seven of 10 games played, Iceland (18 points) lead Group A, two points ahead of the Czech Republic in second and eight clear of the third-place Netherlands. One point from their final three games guarantees at least a playoff place, while two points guarantees automatic qualification. If you’re looking for a fun, under-the-radar bandwagon to hop on ahead of EURO 2016, the time is now because Iceland’s is filling up quickly.

Belgium 3-1 Bosnia-Herzegovina

Belgium’s Premier League contingent showed up in a big way for the Red Devils on Thursday, as Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini, Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard all scored en route to a 3-1 victory that keeps them second in Group B.

Edin Dzeko gave the visitors an early lead (15th minute), before Belgium hit back twice before halftime (23rd and 44th minutes). Hazard applied the finishing touches from the penalty spot in the 78th minute, and suddenly Bosnia-Herzegovina’s EURO 2016 prospects are beginning to look extremely dire. With just three games still to play, they find themselves four points off the pace of third-place Israel, in the race for Group B’s playoff place.

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Cyprus 0-1 Wales

Speaking of sides that are all but qualified for this summer’s tournament, next up is the Welsh national team, led by Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale, scorer of the game’s only goal and the man set to lead Wales into their first major international tournament since 1958 (Wales have never qualified for the EUROs). Bale skied to head home Ashley Richards’ cross in the 82nd minute, and Wales now need just two points to secure at least a playoff place for EURO 2016 qualification. Five points from their final three games and they qualify automatically, regardless what anyone else in the group does.

Italy 1-0 Malta

Graziano Pelle scored the game’s only goal, as the Southampton striker bundled the ball over the line from very close range to finish Antonio Candreva’s curling cross the right wing. With 15 points from seven games, Italy are now level with Croatia as co-leaders in Group H, but behind on goal differential, +13 to +5.

Elsewhere in EURO 2016 qualifying action

Group A

Czech Republic 2-1 Kazakhstan
Turkey 1-1 Latvia

Group B

Israel 4-0 Andorra

Group H

Azerbaijan 0-0 Croatia
Bulgaria 0-1 Norway

U.S. U-23 MNT hammers Bosnia-Herzegovina U-23s, 5-2, in tune-up for Olympic qualifying team

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The U.S. U-23 national team hammered the Bosnia-Herzegovina U-23 national team, 5-2, in Tuzla, Bosnia & Herzegovina on Friday in a tune-up for the Americans’ 2016 Olympic qualifying campaign, which takes place in October.

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The U.S. U-23s jumped on the board early though Stanford forward Jordan Morris’s 8th-minute strike from the top of the box, and went two goals ahead after Mario Rodriguez applied the finish on Morris’s assist six minutes later.

Morris, who chose to return to Stanford next year rather than sign a Homegrown Player deal with the Seattle Sounders, also received a call-up to the senior national team in November.

Bosnia answered back 20 minutes into the second half, cutting the Americans’ lead to 2-1 before former Chicago Fire midfielder Benji Joya converted from the penalty spot to restore the two-goal lead.

The Bosnians converted a penalty of their own minutes later to cut the lead back to one, but a pair of late goals by Alonso Hernandez (Monterrey) and Fatai Alashe (San Jose Earthquakes) completed the rout.

The U.S. U-23s are scheduled to face Denmark U-23 squad next Tuesday in Copenhagen.

U.S. U-23 LINEUP

Charlie Horton (Cardiff City), Boyd Okwuonu (Real Salt Lake), Will Packwood (Birmingham City), Shane O’Neill (Colorado Rapids), Pablo Ocegueda (Oaxaca), Jerome Kiesewetter (Stuttgart), Benji Joya (Unattachd), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Ariel Lassiter (LA Galaxy II), Jordan Morris (Stanford), Mario Rodriguez (Monchengladbach)

Goals: Morris (8′), Rodriguez (14′), Joya (66′), Hernandez (78′), Alashe (86′)