PARIS: Albania qualified for their first major international tournament yesterday as they beat Armenia 3-0 to book their place at Euro 2016 alongside Romania, who won 3-0 in the Faroe Islands. Defeat at home to Serbia on Thursday had left Albania needing three points in Yerevan to edge ahead of Denmark to claim second place in Group I and they made the most of their second chance.
Kamo Hovhannisyan turned into his own net to give Albania a ninth-minute lead before Berat Xhimshiti made it 2-0 midway through the first half. Substitute Armando Sadiku then added a third 14 minutes from time as Gianni De Biasi’s side secured their spot at next summer’s tournament in France. Portugal, already through as group winners, registered their seventh successive qualifying victory as they overcame nineman Serbia 2-1 in Belgrade.
The visitors were without the rested Cristiano Ronaldo but took a fifth-minute lead through stand-in skipper Nani as the ex-Manchester United winger converted the rebound after Danny’s shot was saved by Vladimir Stojkovic. Serbia replied through Zoran Tosic on 65 minutes but Joao Moutinho’s terrific curling strike handed Portugal all three points as the hosts saw both Aleksandar Mitrovic and Nemanja Matic sent off late on.
Romania nailed down the second qualifying spot in Group F after easing past the Faroe Islands in Torshavn. Constantin Budescu scored twice with Alexandru Maxim also on target to ensure Romania went through as group runners-up behind European Championship debutants Northern Ireland, who rounded out their qualifying campaign with a 1-1 draw in Finland. Craig Cathcart’s 31st-minute goal in Helsinki put Michael O’Neill’s side in front but Paulus Arajuuri’s late equaliser earned Finland a share of the spoils. A point was still enough for Northern Ireland to finish top of the group, though, becoming the first ever fifth seed to do so.
Greece, the 2004 European champions, belatedly recorded their first victory with Panagiotis Kone’s 86th-minute strike leading them past Hungary 4-3. The Hungarians, who last qualified for the finals in 1972, remain in contention to qualify as the best third placed team, however, but need Spain to avoid defeat to Ukraine in Kiev on Monday. Later, world champions Germany will bid to wrap up a qualifying spot when they host Group D opponents Georgia in Leipzig. Joachim Loew’s men will book their tickets to France by avoiding defeat, while Poland and the Republic of Ireland meet in Warsaw with both countries still chasing an automatic qualification berth. — AFP