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Italy, France clinch berths

London: Italy and France, who met in the World Cup final 16 months ago, led a six-team charge into next year’s European championship finals on Saturday thanks to Italy’s injury-time 2-1 victory over Scotland in Glasgow.

Christian Panucci’s header sent world champions Italy through, ending Scotland’s hopes in the process and meaning that France qualify whatever happens in their last game against Ukraine on Wednesday.

The Netherlands, Poland, Croatia and Spain also booked trips to the finals in Austria and Switzerland in the penultimate round of qualifiers.

Greece, Germany, Czech Republic and Romania had already qualified alongside the two host countries, leaving four places to be settled in Wednesday’s final round of games.

Scotland will not be filling one of those slots but must be wondering why after beating France home and away and giving Italy a torrid time for long spells on Saturday.

Luca Toni put Italy ahead in the second minute but Scotland, showing great heart and no little skill, equalised in the 65th through captain Barry Ferguson.

However, defender Panucci’s header from a controversially awarded free kick changed everything.

There was also late drama in Tel Aviv, where Omer Golan scored in stoppage time to give Israel an upset 2-1 win over Russia. The result sent Croatia through, despite their 0-2 defeat in Macedonia.

Israel’s win was also a great result for England, who began the day praying for a Russian slip-up and now need only a point from their home game with Croatia on Wednesday to secure a place in the finals.

Poland qualified for their first European championship thanks to a 2-0 home win over Belgium in Group A after Euzebiuz Smolarek scored either side of half-time.

Portugal are likely to join them after they beat Armenia 1-0 to move six points clear of Serbia, whose game against Kazakhstan was postponed until Sunday because of snow.

The Netherlands advanced from group G alongside Romania and into their sixth successive European finals, despite managing only a 1-0 home win over Luxembourg courtesy of Danny Koevermans’s first-half strike.

Spain joined them after goals for Joan Capdevila, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos secured a convincing 3-0 home win over Sweden in group F.

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