On the final day of group stage qualifying games for next summer’s European Championship, Croatia became the 20th and final nation to secure a spot with a top-two group finish. Luka Modrić’s team will join Germany, which as Euro 2024 host automatically qualifies for the 24-team event, and three more countries to be determined via single-elimination playoffs in March.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Tuesday’s action.
Croatia comes roaring back in Group D
Those who like to argue that the Euros is a more competitive tournament than even the World Cup could point to this as proof: Croatia, the World Cup runner-up in 2018 and bronze medalist less than a year ago in Qatar, entered November’s two-match without control of its own destiny in Group D.
Two wins by Wales would relegate Modrić & Co. to the playoffs, at best. But Armenia did the Croats a huge favor by holding Rob Page’s squad to a tie last week, leaving the door open. After easily dispatching Latvia, Croatia came into Tuesday’s contest with the Armenians knowing a win would be enough to clinch.
But as they proved against Wales, Armenia had no intention of going quietly into the Zagreb night. It took almost the entire first half for the hosts to find the breakthrough, but the goal they needed did eventually arrive shortly before the break via Ante Budimir, who nodded a perfect aerial delivery from left back Borna Sosa past visiting keeper Ognjen Čančarević:
It’s the fifth straight trip to the Euros for Croatia, which will be looking to make a deep run after round of 16 exits in both 2016 and 2021.
Wales left wondering what could’ve been
More than an hour into Tuesday’s visit from already-qualified Turkey, Welsh supporters must’ve been kicking themselves. Their team was leading the Turks 1-0 in Cardiff on Neco Williams’ first-half strike. Had Wales not blown a golden chance last Friday to collect all three points in Armenia, the Dragons would’ve been a little more than 20 minutes away from an automatic berth ahead of heavily favored Croatia.
Croatia’s win over the Armenias Tuesday made Wales’ result moot, but it wouldn’t have mattered. After the hosts had had multiple penalty shouts waved away by the referee, Turkey was awarded a 70th minute spot kick that Yusuf Yazıcı converted. The goal was enough to give the visitors both a share of the spoils and the top spot in Group D.
Wales will now have to go through the playoffs to claim one of the final three spots. The silver lining is it will be familiar territory for Page’s side, which survived the extracurriculars to reach last year’s World Cup.
Greece ruins Les Bleus’ perfect ending, but France has a bigger goal
Although its participation at the main event was assured in October, France had plenty to play for on Tuesday after winning each of its first seven qualifiers for Euro 2024. A perfect record was in its sights. Didier Deschamps’s team looked well on its way when Randal Kolo Muani gave the French the lead over Greece three minutes before halftime in Athens.
The hosts responded with two goals after the break, but Youssouf Fofana kept Le Bleus undefeated by netting an equalizer in the 82nd minute:
Disappointing as the result is, France can’t be too mad at themselves. The main objective isn’t a perfect record in qualifying. It’s winning the European title for the first time since 2000 — something it’s more than capable of next summer.
Modrić’s last dance?
After losing the last Nations League final on penalties to Spain in June, Modrić, who turned 28 in September, said he wanted to stick around at least until Germany 2024. Now he’s captained his country back to the continental championship. Will that be the Real Madrid maestro’s final turn at a major tourney?
If anyone can play in a World Cup at 40, it’s him. But Croatian media reports have suggested that Modrić could call it an international career next summer. It would be a fitting stage to hang up his cleats. And an event that will be missing stars such as Erling Haaland (because Norway didn’t qualify) and Spanish playmaker Gavi (sidelined by knee surgery) will be lucky to have him.
Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United Statesmen’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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