Albania qualify for Euro 2024 despite Moldova draw, Finland thrash Northern Ireland


Albania qualify for Euro 2024 despite Moldova draw, Finland thrash Northern Ireland

Nedim Bajrami tries his luck for Albania
Nedim Bajrami tries his luck for AlbaniaAFP
A Sokol Cikalleshi penalty was enough for Albania to secure a place at next year’s 2024 UEFA European Football Championship, despite drawing 1-1 with Moldova at the Stadionul Zimbru.

Heading into the fixture Albania knew that all they needed was a point to seal their place at a second-ever major tournament, against a Moldova side that they beat 2-0 in this qualifying campaign’s reverse fixture.

The hosts started confidently and carved out the first chance of the game when their all time leading goalscorer, Ion Nicolaescu almost added his 15th Moldovan goal, only being denied by a strong Etrit Berisha save.

However, a good start for Moldova was undone by a clumsy Ioan-Calin Revenco challenge on Taulant Seferi that led to Sokol Cikalleshi scoring his first goal of the qualifying campaign from the spot. A relatively quiet first half was capped off with a long range Nedim Bajrami effort that was just about kept out by Dorian Railean to keep the scoreline 1-0 at the break.

Group E current standings
Group E current standingsFlashscore

Albania had kept three clean sheets in their last five games and they once again looked incredibly solid, restricting the hosts to long range efforts, particularly through Nicolaescu, who forced Berisha into a few saves. The closest Moldova came was through an opposition player, specifically Ardian Ismajli who made a complete mess of clearing a cross and was lucky to see the ball bounce out for a corner instead of inside the post.

Seferi’s performance certainly deserved a goal and the winger came inches away from doing just that, when his powerful strike was somehow tipped onto the bar by Railean with 20 minutes left on the clock. Just when Moldova were starting to mourn yet another blank, they finally found the back of the net for their sixth consecutive game to ensure a nervy end to the game.

Despite the effort of both teams in the closing stages neither side could ultimately find a winner. The 1-1 draw keeps Moldova’s qualification hopes just about alive, as they sit one point behind second-placed Czech Republic with one game remaining.

Flashscore Man of the Match: Taulant Seferi (Albania)

Moldova - Albania player ratings
Moldova - Albania player ratingsFlashscore

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Finland 4 Northern Ireland 0

Finland ended a run of three UEFA European Championship Qualifying (ECQ) games without a victory by breezing past Northern Ireland 4-0 in Helsinki.

Hoping to restore some pride after missing out on the automatic qualification spots in Group H, Finland and Northern Ireland squared off in need of a victory, resulting in a busy opening for both Conor Hazard and Lukas Hradecky in between the sticks.

First came the strike of Isaac Price, who forced Hradecky into routine action in the middle of his goal. Hazard’s task was similarly simple in the end, as Joel Pohjanpalo wasted a good opportunity by striking down the goalkeeper’s throat.

It wasn’t until right before the break that proceedings heated up once more following a feeling out period, with the visitors testing Hradecky for a second time when Dion Charles’ volley forced the goalkeeper into action. The opportunity only seemed to spring Finland into action however, as they quickly went up the other end and earned a penalty when Price tripped Nikolai Alho inside the area.

Stepping up and making no mistake, Pohjanpalo converted in the 42nd minute to give the hosts a half-time lead - and make it the seventh time that Northern Ireland have conceded the first goal in their last nine games.

The break should have given Northern Ireland the chance to recoup. It did anything but however, as Finland came flying out the blocks to double their lead.

This time, it was Daniel Hakans wheeling away in celebration after his intricate play with Glen Kamara allowed room for his strike from outside the box and past a disappointed Hazard at his near post just three minutes after the restart.

From there, it began to become clear as to why Michael O'Neill’s side failed to qualify for Euro 2024, with their seven goals scored in Group H a culmination of their struggles.

This allowed Finland to cruise towards their first victory in three qualification games, fending off half chances from the likes of George Saville, before Teemu Pukki and Robin Lod got in on the act from the bench. 

The former Norwich striker finished in vintage clinical fashion courtesy of substitute Robert Taylor’s cutback in the 74th minute, before turning creator for Lod’s routine strike in the final two minutes to cap off a fine 4-0 victory.

Flashscore Man of the Match: Joel Pohjanpalo (Finland)

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