Newcomer Kosovo secures playoff spot in Euro 2020 qualifying
Two years after being recognized by UEFA, Kosovo has given itself a chance to make it to the 2020 European Championship.
The small Balkan republic routed Azerbaijan 4-0 in Pristina on Tuesday to cap an impressive campaign in the inaugural UEFA Nations League and secure at least a playoff spot in qualifying for Euro 2020.
The triumph comes only two months after Kosovo defeated the Faeroe Islands 2-0 for its first competitive win since being admitted to UEFA and FIFA events in 2016.
After winning two other matches in the lower-tiered League D, Kosovo entered the final round in Group 3 needing at least a draw to finish in first place and guarantee the playoff berth.
Arber Zeneli scored a hat trick and Amir Rrahmani added another goal to keep Kosovo unbeaten and at the top of its group. It finished with 14 points from six matches, five points in front of second-place Azerbaijan.
Playing in the playoffs could give Kosovo a shortcut to Euro 2020 as it is unlikely to qualify directly from its group. It ended last in its European qualifying group for the 2018 World Cup.
Making it to Euro 2020 would be a huge sporting success for the country, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008. The competition will be played in cities across Europe, including in some countries which still don’t recognize Kosovo’s independence.
In the top-tier League A, Final Four host Portugal ended the group stage with a 1-1 home draw against relegated Poland, while Sweden gained promotion from League B by defeating visiting Russia 2-0. Scotland moved up from League C by defeating Israel at home, as did Serbia after a 4-1 win over relegated Lithuania.
All group winners in the four leagues are guaranteed a place in the playoffs for Euro 2020.
England, Switzerland and the Netherlands will join Italy in the Final Four in June.