Football Features

Morata continues fine run: Winners and losers from Friday’s Euro 2020 qualifier action

By Harry Edwards

Published: 21:58, 15 November 2019

The qualification campaign for Euro 2020 edges closer to its climax with Friday night featuring five matches.

In Group D, Denmark thrashed Gibraltar 6-0 to move top of the table while Switzerland left it late to beat Georgia 1-0.

Group F saw Spain put seven unanswered goals past Malta and Sweden see off Romania to book their place at Euro 2020, while in Group J Italy beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-0.

Read on for our key winners and losers from the evening’s action

Winner: Alvaro Morata

In the build up to Spain’s game against Malta on Friday night, Alvaro Morata revealed how he had lost confidence in himself while playing for Chelsea.

The striker started 2019 still at the London club under Maurizio Sarri but would soon join Atletico Madrid on loan before making the move permanent in the summer. It ended Morata’s 18-month association with the Blues, while the Spaniard also severed any potential ties with a recent dig at his former teammates.

“The people that work at the club, my teammates… but I didn’t believe in myself [at Chelsea],” he said.

“In England, I had the feeling that when I missed [a chance], my teammates were looking at me as if I wasn’t going to do anything good.

“If only I’d been able to mature before 20-22 years old, but I’d never faced such a limiting situation.”

But at Atletico Madrid he has found form again, which he carried into Friday night’s Euro 2020 qualification, opening the scoring midway through the first half.

Reacting quickest to Gerard Moreno’s header, Morata tapped in from close range to score for the seventh consecutive game for club and country. Never before has the Spanish striker managed this feat, showing just how far he has come from the lows of his final months at Chelsea.

Loser: Romania

As things stand, Romania’s hopes of reaching Euro 2020 are not over despite the defeat as they could still qualify through the play-offs. But the messiness of the system, which will only be confirmed once all qualifying games are played, could work against Romania.

For the first time, the play-offs for European Championship qualification will be made up of teams based on their Uefa Nations League finishes. With nations split into four leagues which are then split into four groups, each group winner is guaranteed a place in the play-offs.

The play-offs are then split into four paths, one for each league, meaning there would be four different levels of teams qualifying for the more open Euro 2020.

But with some Nations League group winners confirming their Euro 2020 spot through the official qualification campaign, there are opportunities for other teams to get a play-off spot. Romania are one of them, but their fate – as things stand – will be decided by a draw.

Currently, Romania are one of three teams who could either be placed into Path A or Path C for the play-offs in March. Path A, the harder of the two, has two open slots meaning there is a bigger chance for Romania to face off against one of Europe’s bigger teams – despite having been in League C last year.

Winner: Francesco Acerbi

Italy had already secured their place at Euro 2020 prior to Friday’s 3-0 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina, meaning there was little to be excited about for those watching.

But Francesco Acerbi ensured the game would be remembered for a lovely moment in the defender’s career. For those who may not know, Acerbi was diagnosed with cancer in December 2013 while at Sassuolo which saw him miss the rest of that campaign as he underwent chemotherapy.

Acerbi returned to action the following season and was handed a first Italy cap in November 2014 – though he would have to wait until 2016 for his first start. Even that appeared to be a false dawn as Acerbi’s next action for Italy came in late 2018.

Now in his second full season at Lazio, Acerbi has been performing well at the back and has become a regular feature of Roberto Mancini’s side, starting three of their past four games.

On Friday night, his sixth cap for the Azzurri, Acerbi scored his first ever international goal, a moment that he will no doubt remember forever. And it was a decent goal for a centre-back, as he got the better of a defender with a neat bit of skill before passing the ball into the bottom left corner. It proved to be the first of three for Italy as they eventually ground out a win.

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Winner: Marcus Berg

For Sweden on Friday night things were very simple. Win and they’d be joining Spain as Group F’s representatives at Euro 2020. And win they did.

It was easier for the Scandinavian side than they might have expected, with opponents Romania needing to win to keep their automatic qualification hopes alive. But Marcus Berg ensured it would be his side celebrating come the end of the night.

The 33-year-old opened the scoring in the 18th minute rising well to head in Emil Forsberg’s cross having, amazingly, been left unmarked inside the Romania area. And 15 minutes later he turned provider, neatly laying Mikael Lustig’s cross into the path of strike partner Robin Quaison who doubled Sweden’s lead.

He continued to be a nuisance for the Romanian defence, winning four aerial duels and will be hoping to feature at Euro 2020 – which may be his final outing at a major tournament for Sweden.

Loser: Republic of Ireland

Republic of Ireland fans wouldn’t have been too hopeful of their Euro 2020 qualification chances going into the final round of fixtures.

Without a win in their past three games, Ireland needed one of Georgia or Gibraltar to cause a shock result on Friday night to keep their hopes high.

But, alas, that did not come with Denmark and Switzerland winning their games 6-0 and 1-0 respectively. While nothing has really changed for Ireland as they always needed to beat Denmark to qualify, the gap in the table may have added some more pressure to Mick McCarthy’s side.

Winner: Roberto Mancini

When Roberto Mancini took charge of the Italian national team in 2018, the nation were in disarray. They had just failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958 and had a serious rebuild on their hands.

Things didn’t get off to the greatest start for the Azzurri under Mancini as they disappointed in the Uefa Nations League, only winning one of their four games.

But something clicked after that campaign and Italy have been perfect ever since – at least, results-wise. Ten games have followed since a goalless draw with Portugal and Italy have won every single one of them. Starting with a 1-0 friendly win over the United States, Italy have beat Finland (twice), Liechtenstein (twice), Greece (twice), Bosnia-Herzegovina (twice) and Armenia in Euro 2020 qualifying and now sit just one win away from a perfect campaign.

Whether they manage that with a win over Armenia on Monday remains to be seen, but one thing that was confirmed by Mancini’s men was Italy’s best ever winning run. The current Azzurri tied the record set by Vittoiro Pozzo’s side of 1938-39 in October but have now moved clear, with Mancini writing his name in the history books.