GENEVA (AP) — Eight teams advanced to the 2024 European Championship in a week when qualifying games were disrupted by war in the Middle East and violence on the streets of Brussels.
Belgium and Sweden did not complete their game Monday so as to ensure the safety of visiting fans, and Israel could not play either of its scheduled games after the surprise attack by Hamas on Oct. 7 and conflict since.
On the field, England and France were the standout teams with Jude Bellingham and Kylian Mbappé the most thrilling talents in Europe. Both teams sealed their places at Euro 2024.
Host Germany also was joined by Austria, Belgium, Portugal, Scotland, Spain and Turkey. Nine of the 24 places are now confirmed ahead of the final rounds of group-stage games next month and qualifying playoffs in March.
Israel is close to reaching its first finals since joining UEFA for political and security reasons 30 years ago.
Politics and player safety have weighed heavily on Euro 2024 qualifying even before Israel’s games — hosting Switzerland and at Kosovo — were postponed.
Ukraine has not played a home game since the February 2022 invasion by Russia, which is still banned from international soccer because of waging war.
Ukraine’s four “home” games this year were scheduled in four different countries: Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany.
Russia’s military ally Belarus has had to play in empty stadiums in neutral Hungary and Serbia.
Uncertainty remains for Israel and Belgium. Israel and Switzerland try again in Tel Aviv on Nov. 15 to start a triple-header week of games for both.
Before then, UEFA aims to find a spare date in the packed calendar to schedule Kosovo-Israel so that all group standings are final before the 12-team playoffs draw on Nov. 23.
Belgium-Sweden paused at halftime at 1-1 and it is unclear if the game must be completed. Belgium looks set to top the group. Sweden was already unsure of a playoffs entry and neither team seems keen to resume.
France and England still look like Europe’s best as they did last December in a World Cup quarterfinals game that France won 2-1.
France’s 2-1 win in the Netherlands on Friday was clinched by Mbappé’s majestic curling shot early in the second half. He had also opened the scoring.
England eased to a 3-1 win over Italy on Tuesday after trailing early to the defending champion at Wembley Stadium.
Like France, Portugal has a perfect record and made it eight straight wins with a 5-0 victory in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Belgium, like England, is unbeaten with one draw.
Romelu Lukaku scored nine of Belgium’s 16 goals in qualifying before the Sweden game and Cristiano Ronaldo has nine of Portugal’s 32 goals in its group.
They are tied as top scorers in qualifying after having forgettable World Cups in Qatar and moving clubs in 2023. Lukaku is at Roma, on another loan from Chelsea, and Ronaldo is famously in Saudi Arabia with Al Nassr.
Italy is still favored to advance with England, and hosts North Macedonia — which won their World Cup qualifying playoff in March 2022 — before facing Ukraine on Nov. 20.
The Netherlands will join France if they beat Ireland at home on Nov. 18. A stoppage-time penalty by Virgil van Dijk in Greece on Monday lifted the 1988 champion to a valuable 1-0 win over the 2004 title winner.
Hungary and Serbia are on course to qualify from their group. Slovenia still surprisingly edges Denmark in Group H and they meet in Copenhagen on Nov. 17. Slovenia has played at only one Euros — in 2000.
Croatia, a World Cup finalist and semifinalist in the past two editions, lost back-to-back games at home to Turkey and at Wales.
Croatia has to play Group D’s two weakest teams — Latvia and Armenia — next month but Wales holds the head-to-head tiebreaker and controls its destiny before going to Armenia and hosting Turkey.
In Group E led by Albania, Poland is third and only one point ahead of Moldova, which is still in contention. Poland hosts the second-place Czechs on Nov. 17. Albania can qualify if it wins its last game at home against the Faeroe Islands.
Even after 20 teams advance from the 10 qualifying groups next month, 12 more teams have a second chance next March in the playoffs. That leaves hope for countries like Kazakhstan or Georgia, which have never qualified.
Three places will be offered to the winner of each of three brackets of four teams, playing single-leg semifinals and finals.
Entry to the playoffs is based on rankings in the Nations League group played one year ago. The draw is made Nov. 23, two days after the qualifying groups finish.
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