As Croatia’s football national team narrowly beat Armenia 1:0 on Tuesday at Zagreb’s “Maksimir” stadium, it raised to six the total number of Balkan countries that have secured places among the 32 countries which will play in Europe’s major football tournament, EURO 2024, in Germany.
Two other Central European countries, Czechia and Hungary, have also made it.
For Croatia, this is the seventh time they have made the tournament since the country gained its independence in 1991.
“I congratulate the players on the placement. This is another great result. It was a difficult qualification and a difficult match,” the coach of the Croatian team, Zlatko Dalic, said on Tuesday. “Now we are going to Germany, where thousands of Croatian fans will be waiting for us. We will be playing ‘at home’,” Dalic added.
Five other Balkan countries, Slovenia, Serbia, Albania, Turkey and Romania, have also make the cut.
The Slovenian national team realised a long-held dream and earned a place in Euro 24 after a 24-year absence, after beating Kazakhstan 2:1 in the final qualifying round on November 20.
This will be the second time Slovenia has played at the Euro. Their last and only previous appearance at the continental finals was in 2000, and it is their first appearance in a major football competition since the World Cup 2010. “We are glad, happy, and proud – and deservedly so,” head coach Matjaz Kek said after the game.
Serbia also had to wait long for a Euro tournament revisit. Their national football team has qualified for the championship for the first time since Serbia has played as a separate country.
Team coach Dragan “Piksi” Stojkovic said on November 19, when Serbia qualified after scoring 2:2 with Bulgaria, it is “a great day for Serbian football. Serbia’s representation managed to reach the goal. What we had as a plan and goal, to have as a result in this qualifications, we managed to do”.
The last time Serbian football players participated in a European championship was in 2000, as part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia team, when Stojkovic was a player.
For Albania, the qualification is the second time they have participated in this tournament, after France 2016. But this time Albania has secured its place as a group leader, which automatically means a better position on December 2 when participants learn their groups. Albania has been placed in Pot 2.
“This is something very beautiful. We have strong players but you cannot do it alone. Everything you achieve is with the group, and they [the players] realised this,” Sylvinho, the Brasilian-born head coach, told television Klan on Tuesday.
Sylvinho took over Albania’s team only at the beginning of the qualifying phase, after some disappointing results since 2016.
Turkey’s national team also managed to go to Euro 2024, marking its first bid as group leader. The Turkish team has taken part in the European championship five times, and the team has great hopes of the sixth time.
“We have great aims. We have this power and will. We dreamed. Our dream of participating in the European Championship is over. Now to go further,” Mehmet Buyukeksi, President of the Turkish Football Federation, told reporters on Tuesday following the last group game against Wales that ended in a 1-1 draw.
Romania qualified for the Euro 2024 in Germany after beating Switzerland 1:0 at the National Stadium in Bucharest, securing their spot as group leader.
“One more win, and we fabulously end this campaign. I have no words to describe the boys. If I have merit, it is that I always believed in them and convinced them of their potential and what wonderful things they can do together,” Romania’s coach, Edi Iordanescu, said.
For Romania, it will be the sixth participation in a European Championship. Its first participation was in 1984. Romania’s best result was recorded in 2000, when it qualified for the quarter-finals, when it was eliminated by Italy.
For Czechia, the qualification came with some surprises. The head coach, Jaroslav Silhavy, announced that the match against Moldova played on Monday was his last in the post.
“Despite being happy now, after the final whistle, as we reached the final Euro tournament, we as a staff team have decided I will not continue in the Czech national team,” Silhavy said, announcing that he was stepping down after five years in the job.
Hungary secured its Euro 2024 place as leader of their qualifying group, undefeated. “The fact that we’ve finished the qualifiers with 18 points and remained undefeated says everything about the national team’s overall performance this year, something which can’t be attributed to luck,” Hungary’s head coach Marco Rossi told the media after their final match against Montenegro, which they won 3:1.
“It was a great feeling to celebrate at the end of the match; the way the Hungarian fans celebrate, it’s hard to describe,” he said.
Source : Balkans Insight