Wales lose but make finals with Belgium and Italy
LONDON: Wales celebrated reaching their first major tournament for 57 years when they sealed their place in next year's Euro 2016 finals in France despite losing 2-0 to Bosnia in their penultimate Group B qualifier on Saturday.
While Belgium's players were also elated after reaching the finals with a 4-1 win in Andorra and the Italians were beaming as they made sure of their spot with a 3-1 win in Azerbaijan, that was nothing compared to the Welsh celebrations in Zenica.
Despite losing on the night, the Wales players dived in unison, cheered, hugged and jumped for joy with the several hundred travelling fans, all of them forgetting decades of failure after a long sought-after success.
Wales' only other appearance at a major finals was in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden and their setback in Bosnia was best summed up by Wales skipper Gareth Bale.
"It's the best defeat of my life!" the world's most expensive player said, after learning that Israel's 2-1 home defeat by Cyprus meant they were through.
"It was a difficult game but we have done it and everyone is very happy," added the Real Madrid forward.
"This is right up there in my career. It was a dream from when I was a small child to play in a major tournament. It doesn't stop here, we have business to do in France."
Bosnia substitute Milan Djuric scored the first and set up the second for striker Vedad Ibisevic as they maintained their chance of a playoff place.
Belgium leapfrogged Wales into first place with their win taking them to 20 points followed by Wales on 18, Bosnia 14, Israel 13 and Cyprus 12.
Italy went through after their 3-1 win in a Group H match in Azerbaijan and 11 countries have now booked their places alongside hosts France.
As well as Wales, Belgium and Italy, Iceland, the Czech Republic, England, Portugal, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Austria and Spain are all through.
The remaining automatic qualifiers and playoff spots will be settled from Sunday to Tuesday when the final games are played.
Following Saturday's matches, the Netherlands, Turkey, Bosnia, Israel, Cyprus, Norway and Croatia are either in contention for second place or a playoff berth.
The Dutch, who have not missed a Euro finals since 1984, kept their playoff chances alive with a 2-1 win in Kazakhstan.
The fate of the 1988 European champions will be decided on Tuesday when they host the already-qualified Czechs and Turkey, also vying for third place, welcome group leaders Iceland who have already sealed their spot.
Turkey won 2-0 away to the Czech Republic to reach 15 points while the Dutch have 13 and must win their last match to have any hope of a playoff spot.
The tussle for who qualifies with Italy from Group H is going to the wire after Norway defeated Malta 2-0 and Croatia beat Bulgaria 3-0.
Italy are secure with 21 points, Norway have 19 and Croatia 17. Norway play in Italy on Tuesday while Croatia travel to Malta.
In the battle for third spot in Group B, Bosnia visit Cyprus and Israel travel to Belgium.