LEVERKUSEN, Germany — Italy qualified for Euro 2024 after drawing 0-0 against Ukraine in their final Group C qualifier on Monday although the Ukrainians can still secure a spot through the playoffs.
European champions Italy finished second, level on 14 points with third-placed Ukraine but with a better head-to-head record after a tense affair that could have gone either way.
The Italians ended six points behind England, who had sealed qualification after beating Italy 3-1 at Wembley in October.
Ukraine, who have never beaten Italy, had strong claims for a penalty after Bryan Cristante’s clumsy challenge on Mykhailo Mudryk in stoppage time but nothing was given.
They can still book a spot at a fourth consecutive European Championship via the playoffs in March. The playoff draw will take place on Thursday in Nyon.
“Ukraine showed that they are an equipped team and they gave us a hard time,” Italy coach Luciano Spalletti told Rai Sport.
“Today we played a good match because in the first half we had many opportunities to secure the result. Then when we didn’t manage to do so the match became dirtier and more physical.
“They brought in more physical players but at that moment they no longer played football.”
LIVELY STARTThe match got off to a lively start but both goalkeepers — Italy’s Gianluigi Donnarumma and Ukraine’s Anatoliy Trubin — held firm in an entertaining clash at BayArena in Leverkusen.
Italy, who will make their eighth consecutive appearance at the Euros, had most possession and created more chances but Ukraine remained composed as they looked to counter-attack.
Italy’s Federico Chiesa had a chance to break the deadlock in the seventh minute but his effort from inside the box flew narrowly over the bar before Donnarumma denied Ukraine an opener seven minutes later by keeping out Georgiy Sudakov’s low shot.
Defender Giovanni Di Lorenzo then nearly nodded home for Italy from a corner just before the half-hour mark before Trubin pulled off a stunning save to deny Davide Frattesi.
Italy continued to dominate after the break but Ukraine’s probing increased and Mudryk came close in the 66th minute only to be denied by Donnarumma who pulled off another fine save.
“We are very happy,” Donnarumma said. “We are where we deserve to be with all the difficulties we had, but thanks to the new coach and staff we are back.”
Under Spalletti, who took over from Roberto Mancini in August, Italy have won three times, drawn twice and lost once. They failed to qualify for last year’s World Cup in Qatar.
The European Championship will be held in Germany. — Reuters