Paris (AFP) – The Netherlands, Germany and World Cup finalists Croatia became the last big hitters to qualify for Euro 2020 on Saturday as the trio booked their places at next summer’s finals.
Austria also made it through to the multi-host tournament, which kicks off on June 12, with 16 teams now ensured of a spot at the 24-team event and only four places remaining from the main qualifying route.
They join other big names such like Spain, Italy, England and Belgium, who will all fancy their chances come kick-off at the opening match at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.
Ronald Koeman’s resurgent Dutch needed a point to qualify for their first major tournament since coming third at the 2014 World Cup and got what they needed in a scrappy goalless draw with Northern Ireland in Belfast.
“It means a lot for us as players. Hopefully it means so much to the Dutch people,” Liverpool defender Van Dijk said.
“We have to make sure we prepare very well for a big tournament. We missed the last two. We want to perform well.”
However they were far from the flamboyant outfit that has so often thrilled in Group C, and survived a huge scare when Steven Davis smashed a first-half penalty high over the bar.
The Dutch dominated possession and stopped the hosts from having a single shot on target but failed to create much themselves as the likes of Frenkie de Jong and Quincy Promes failed to spark.
Davis’ spot-kick blunder left Michael O’Neill’s side third and hoping for a way into the tournament via the playoffs.
The draw allowed fierce rivals Germany to move top in the group as Toni Kroos hit a brace in a simple 4-0 win over Belarus in Moenchengladbach which saw them qualify for the Euros for the 13th time in a row.
– Germany join the Dutch –
A deft back-heeled goal from defender Matthias Ginter just before the break and impressive finishing by Leon Goretzka and Kroos gave the Germans a comfortable three-goal lead early in the second half.
Captain Manuel Neuer produced a superb save to keep out Belarus striker Igor Stasevich’s penalty before Kroos dribbled through the defence to claim his second goal seven minutes from time and make sure of a routine win.
“Overall we did well, but at the moment I don’t include us among the favourites for the European title,” said Kroos, echoing coach Joachim Loew’s comments from earlier in the week.