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Dhaka Tribune

Playoffs begin as final three Euro 2024 places up for grabs

1 of the teams in contention, Israel have faced calls to be banned from international football from a group of Middle Eastern football associations, including 2034 WC hosts Saudi Arabia

Update : 20 Mar 2024, 05:16 PM

Israel's footballers are aiming to make history by reaching the European Championship for the first time amid the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, with the final three places at Euro 2024 up for grabs over the next week.

Twelve teams still have dreams of reaching Germany later this year with three sets of four nations to face off in Thursday's semi-finals and the winners progressing to a final Tuesday.

Israel became a member of Europe's governing body UEFA 20 years ago, but are yet to reach the continent's major international competition.

The war between Israel and Hamas has forced Alon Hazan's men to try and finish the job on the road with no international matches going ahead in Israel for the foreseeable future due to security concerns.

Thursday's semi-final against Iceland will be played in Hungary's capital Budapest, with the winners facing Bosnia and Herzegovina or Ukraine away in the final.

But for the conflict, Israel may have qualified automatically as they were in a strong position prior to the October 7 attacks by Hamas.

On their return to action in November they suffered a shock 1-0 defeat to Kosovo and then failed to win either of crucial qualifiers against Romania and Switzerland, which should have been at home but were instead moved to Hungary.

"(It) is more important for us that we can be proud of our country and give some happiness to change the atmosphere," Hazan told Sky.

"This is more important than being part of the tournament."

Israel have faced calls to be banned from international football from a group of Middle Eastern football associations, including 2034 World Cup hosts Saudi Arabia.

And UEFA will be braced for protests and extra security measures should they reach the finals.

Israel are favored to get past Iceland, but could face a much sterner test in another nation determined to give their war-torn people cause to cheer in Ukraine.

After narrowly missing out on the 2022 World Cup, a squad containing the likes of Real Madrid's Andriy Lunin, captain Oleksandr Zinchenko of Arsenal and Chelsea winger Mykhailo Mudryk are desperate to make amends.

Whoever progresses from the League B playoff will face Belgium, Romania and Slovakia in Euro 2024 Group E.

In the League A playoff, Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski is looking to lead Poland to a fifth consecutive Euros.

They host Estonia in the semi-finals with the winners travelling to either Wales or Finland, who face off in the semi-finals in Cardiff.

Wales boss Rob Page is relying on home advantage after losing his generational talent Gareth Bale to retirement since the 2022 World Cup.

Former Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey is also an injury doubt, but Wales have only lost once in their last 14 qualifiers for the Euros in Cardiff.

Qualification could be a poisoned chalice though with France, the Netherlands and Austria awaiting the winners in Group D of the Euros.

In the League C playoff, 2004 winners Greece are the favorites to reach their first major tournament in a decade.

They face a Kazakhstan side that shocked Denmark and Finland in qualifying to narrowly miss out on automatic progression to Germany.

A Georgia team featuring Napoli forward Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Luxembourg are also aiming to get to their first ever major tournament.

The chance to face Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal awaits the winners, alongside Turkey and the Czech Republic in Group F.

Fixtures (1:45am Bangladesh time unless stated)

Thursday

League C playoff

Georgia v Luxembourg, 11pm

Friday

League A playoff

Poland v Estonia

Wales v Finland

League B playoff

Bosnia v Ukraine

Israel v Iceland

League C playoff

Greece v Kazakhstan

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