Italy reached Euro 2024 after a tense draw with Ukraine that denied the Ukrainians automatic qualification for next year’s tournament. The European champions finished second in Group C, 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. They also have a superior goal difference to the Ukrainians, and with England already guaranteed top spot, that was enough for the Italians to secure their place in Germany next March.
The high stakes made for a tense occasion, with Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma having to produce a firm hand low down to keep out an early Georgiy Sudakov strike. There were chances at the other end, too, with Federico Chiesa and Davide Frattesi missing from close range for Luciano Spalletti’s side. At the same time, Anatoliy Trubin saved well from Nicolo Barella before denying the Juventus defender in a one-on-one. Ukraine winger Mykhailo Mudryk was a threat and produced several crosses but could not find a team-mate.
Italy grew increasingly nervous in the second half as they sat deep and allowed their opponents more of the ball. Their nerves were further jangled as Mudryk went down under a Bryan Cristante challenge in the penalty area. Still, referee Jesus Gil Manzano waved away his team’s vehement appeals for a spot-kick.
As the final whistle blew, Italy players shook their heads in disappointment as they saw their hopes of an immediate return to international football recede. A win would have seen them move level on points with England, but they will instead have to play in the playoffs alongside Croatia and Slovenia, who both won their final qualifiers.
Both teams had moments to steal a late winner, with Ukraine winger Mykhailo Mudryk firing a shot just wide. Italy defender Bryan Cristante came close with his shot, but a save from the Ukraine goalkeeper kept it out.
The final three places for the 12-team Euro 2024 competition will be decided in a series of playoffs in March. A winner will join hosts France and runners-up Germany in the finals, while a second-place finisher will go into a playoff for the remaining place, along with the three best third-placed teams. The tournament will be held in 12 European cities from June to July. Defending champions Italy had been anxious to avoid the scenario that saw them lose in the playoffs at both the last two World Cups when they were eliminated by Croatia and North Macedonia, respectively. They will now face a rematch with the same opponent in the quarterfinals.