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
Czech Republic 2-1 Kazakhstan
Turkey 1-1 Latvia
Israel 4-0 Andorra
Azerbaijan 0-0 Croatia
Bulgaria 0-1 Norway