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Scotland qualify for first major tournament since 1998 after beating Serbia

AFP/Belgrade, Serbia
Filed on November 13, 2020
Scotland's wild celebrations at the end of the match were understandable given the last major tournament they played in was the 1998 World Cup in France.

(Reuters)

Scots reach Euro 2020 after dramatic win on penalties, with Hungary, Slovakia and North Macedonia also qualifying.

Scotland qualified for a first major international tournament since 1998 by reaching Euro 2020 thanks to a 5-4 win on penalties over Serbia after a 1-1 draw in Belgrade.

The Scots' demons of two decades without qualifying seemed set to reappear when Luka Jovic's 90th-minute header sent the game into extra time.

Ryan Christie's opener had deservedly put the visitors in front during what had been a fine performance from Steve Clarke's men.

But just like in a semi-final shootout win over Israel, Scotland kept their cool with five perfect penalties and finally got over the line when David Marshall saved from Aleksandar Mitrovic.

"This time we didn't let them down. The whole nation can be proud but nobody more so than the players on the pitch," said Clarke.

Goalscorer Christie and captain Andy Robertson welled up with emotion as a generation of Scots can look forward to a major tournament for the first time.

There is an extra reward of two matches at Hampden against the Czech Republic and Croatia and a clash with old rivals England come June.

"I'll say every sort of prayer I have to have a full Hampden because my God we'll feel it," Robertson told Sky Sports.

"I hope everyone has a party tonight because we have been through tough times as footballers and football fans. 23 years and we've done it. I don't want to think about it because I'll probably cry."

Christie missed the play-off semi-final win over Israel last month after he was categorised as a close contact of Stuart Armstrong, who tested positive for coronavirus after joining up with the Scotland squad.

The Celtic midfielder spoke openly about the mental challenge of having to self-isolate indoors for 14 days on his return to playing and hoped qualification can offer some relief to those struggling with lockdown restrictions in Scotland.

"I'm gone," said a tearful Christie. "It's for the whole nation, it's been a horrible year for everyone.

"We knew coming into the game we could give a little something to the country and I hope everyone back home is having a party tonight because we deserve it. We've been through so many years and it's the monkey off the back now."

Scotland are now unbeaten in nine games stretching back 13 months and the confidence Clarke has instilled in his side showed as the visitors controlled the first 90 minutes.

- Christie's moment of quality -

Had it not been for an injury to Ryan Fraser, it is unlikely Christie would have started, but he produced the moment of quality his nation was crying out for on 52 minutes.

Christie collected Callum McGregor's pass on the edge of the box then fired low, in off the post, on his favoured left foot.

Scotland continued to have the upper hand but couldn't score the killer second goal as McGregor and then Christie fired powerful shots inches wide.

Jovic has struggled to make an impact since a 60 million euro ($71 million) move to Real Madrid last year, but broke Tartan Army hearts as the game entered stoppage time.

Scotland had not conceded a goal in over 470 minutes but incredibly left Jovic all alone in the heart of the area to head home a corner.

Serbia had all the momentum going into extra time with Clarke having withdrawn the dangerous Lyndon Dykes, Christie and McGinn towards the closing stages of normal time.

Marshall had to produce a brilliant save from Nemanja Gudelj a winner.

And the Derby goalkeeper was the hero in the shootout after Leigh Griffiths, McGregor, Scott McTominay, Oli McBurnie and Kenny McLean had found the net.

- Northern Ireland denied -

There was no such joy for Northern Ireland, who went to Euro 2016 but will miss out on the next European Championship after losing 2-1 in extra time to Slovakia in Belfast.

Milan Skriniar's late own goal gave Ian Baraclough's side a lifeline after Juraj Kucka put Slovakia ahead, but Michal Duris won it for Slovakia in the 110th minute.

Slovakia, who beat the Republic of Ireland on penalties in the semi-finals, will go into Group E at the finals with Poland, Spain and Sweden.

Hungary came from behind to stun Iceland and secure their place, two late goals in Budapest giving them a 2-1 victory.

Iceland looked set to reach a third straight major tournament after Gylfi Sigurdsson's early free-kick slipped through the grasp of goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi in the 11th minute.

However, Hungary equalised in the 88th minute when Loic Nego, a naturalised Hungarian born in France, pounced to score after Kari Arnason diverted the ball into his path in the box.

And the home side grabbed the winner as Dominik Szoboszlai's fine low effort sealed a 2-1 victory in the second minute of injury time.

Twice World Cup runners-up, Hungary ended a 30-year major tournament absence when they went to Euro 2016 and reached the last 16.

They will go into Group F at the Euro and will come up against World Cup holders France, Germany and reigning European champions Portugal, with two group games at home in Budapest.

- Pandev strike sinks Georgia -

North Macedonia will make their tournament debut after veteran 37-year-old striker Goran Pandev scored their winner in the 56th minute in Tbilisi.

A member of the Inter Milan side that won the 2010 Champions League, Pandev is now with Genoa and is his country's all-time top goal-scorer.

The Balkan nation, who sit 65th in FIFA's world rankings, will go into Group C alongside the Netherlands, Austria and Ukraine.

North Macedonia had never come close to reaching a major tournament before but were given a chance after the new UEFA Nations League offered a route to Europe's traditional minnows.

One qualifying place was set aside to a team from the bottom League D, and North Macedonia topped a group with Armenia, Gibraltar and Liechtenstein before beating neighbours Kosovo 2-1 in the play-off semi-finals last month.

The delayed, 24-team Euro is set to be played in 12 cities across the continent, with the semi-finals and final at Wembley in London.





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