Drama as Turkey and Croatia qualify while Dutch go out
LONDON: Turkey and Croatia secured the last automatic spots at Euro 2016 in dramatic fashion on Tuesday but the Netherlands' qualifying campaign ended in failure with a home defeat by Czech Republic leaving them out of contention.
The Dutch, European champions in 1988 and World Cup semi-finalists last year, finished fourth in their group to miss out on the finals for the first time since 1984.
Turkey and the Netherlands were both chasing third spot in Group A behind qualified Iceland and the Czechs but the Turks finished as the best third-placed team to qualify automatically for the finals following their 1-0 home win over Iceland.
They needed to avoid defeat to Iceland, in case the Dutch beat the Czechs, and had an outside hope of finishing as the third-placed team with the best record in the nine qualifying groups if they won and Kazakhstan also beat Latvia.
To their delight that is how the night played out.
Turkey won, the Dutch lost 3-2 and Kazakhstan won 1-0 in Latvia to send the Turks to the finals for the fourth time.
Before Tuesday's matches kicked off Hungary had the best third-placed record but they now go into the playoffs.
Turkey, who finished with 10 men, won with an 89th minute free-kick from Selcuk Inan and the result brought some much needed joy to his compatriots.
"As a country we really needed this win to feel happy, even for a few hours maybe. We are so happy to have offered some happiness to our people," said coach Fatih Terim, referring to last weekend's bombing in the capital Ankara that killed almost 100 people.
Croatia also made it the finals with a 1-0 win over Malta, but it was touch and go until the closing moments.
Croatia, who started with 17 points, and Norway, who had 19, were both looking for the second automatic qualifying berth in Group H behind group winners Italy.
But while Croatia were winning in Malta, thanks to Ivan Perisic's 25th minute goal, Norway were also leading in Italy through Alexander Tettey's 23rd minute goal in Rome.
However, with the finishing line in sight, Norway collapsed, conceding two late goals to Alessandro Florenzi after 73 minutes and Graziano Pelle eight minutes from time, to lose 2-1 and allow Croatia to overtake them.
Norway at least have the consolation of a place in Sunday's draw for the playoffs, which is more than the Dutch achieved.
World Cup semi-finalists last year in Brazil after starting with a 5-1 demolition of Spain, the Dutch were beaten five times in their 10 qualifying matches.
Their hopes were virtually over after they conceded two first-half goals with the Czechs topping the group. Nothing symbolised the Dutch fall from grace better than Robin Van Persie, who came on for his 101st cap as a substitute and headed into his own goal to put the Czechs 3-0 in front.
It was a far cry from his famous header against Spain in the World Cup last year and, although he scored at the right end later it was nothing more than a consolation.
Twenty teams, including hosts France, are now assured of a place at the finals, with the draw for the eight-team playoffs taking place on Sunday.