By Jay Mwamba
England, Denmark and Slovenia joined Ireland’s conquerors,Turkey, in the 16-nation European Soccer Championship next summer at the conclusion of last Wednesday’s playoffs.
Denmark, surprise winners of the 1992 finals, were the most impressive side in the playoffs, seeing off Isr’l 8-0 on aggregate. Slovenia, once part of the Yugoslav federation, held off fancied Ukraine 3-2 over two legs, while England had goalie David Seaman to thank for squeaking past brave Scotland, who won the "Battle of Britain" at Wembley but lost the qualification war.
Don Hutchison’s 38th minute header gave Scotland a 1-0 victory over a flat England side in London, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Kevin Keegan’s side from squeezing through to Euro 2000, 2-1 on aggregate.
Still, it took a brilliant point-blank save by Seaman from a Christian Dailly header, with goal written all over it ten minutes from the end, to seal England’s qualification.
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"We didn’t play well. We just couldn’t get going at all," said England coach Kevin Keegan, whose men had triumphed 2-0 in Glasgow four days earlier.
Scottish boss Craig Brown was predictably disappointed, despite the win over
the "auld enemy."
"The hype was that we were just here to beat England but, as I kept telling our players, our job was to qualify for Euro 2000. We have failed and that is a major disappointment," said Brown.
Denmark picked up in Copenhagen where they had left off in Tel Aviv four days earlier, pasting hapless Isr’l 3-0 to complete an 8-0 rout.
Ebbe Sand (3rd), Brian Steen Nielsen (14th) and Jon Dahl Tomasson (64th) tallied in front of 41,000 ecstatic fans.
Miran Pavlin’s equalizer (79th) in a 1-1 tie in Kiev was enough to see Slovenia through to their first ever European Championship.
Serhiy Rebrov had shot the Ukrainians, who trailed 2-1 from the first leg, ahead from the penalty spot after 69 minutes.
"It’s a tragedy for us," said Ukrainian assistant coach Leanid Buryak.
Slovenia coach Srecko Katanec said it was a great victory for the small nation. "I have never doubted that we could pull it off. Even when we were
down 0-1, I was sure we would come back," he remarked.
Euro 2000 field
Through to the finals, along with co-hosts Belgium and Holland are Germany, Spain, Romania, Norway, Sweden, Czech Republic, Yugoslavia, Portugal, France, Italy, England, Turkey, Denmark, and Slovenia. For Ireland, it’s a long wait until Portugal ’04.