FELCSUT, Hungary — Romania ended Israel’s chances of automatic qualification for the European Championship 2024 with a 2-1 win on Saturday, securing its place to compete in the major soccer tournament next year.
Romania recovered from Israeli forward Eran Zahavi scoring in the second minute, responding with goals from George Pușcaș and Ianis Hagi. Israel was the official host team but Saturday’s game was played in Hungary because of the Israel-Hamas war.
Romania now qualifies for its first major tournament since 2016 after missing the last European Championship despite being one of the host nations.
Israel misses out on an automatic qualifying spot but goes into the playoffs because of its Nations League record.
The playoffs will take place in March 2024 ahead of the June-July tournament hosted by Germany.
Coach Alon Hazan said he felt a “huge disappointment” and that to win matches like these “you have to be more focused and responsible and we didn’t do that.”
“We lost our concentration a little bit. They were successful in passing attacks,” he said after the game, as cited by Israeli news network Sport 1. “We have another chance in March, I hope we will do it there.”
Zahavi, who cried at the end of the match while with the fans, said the team had “a crazy start” with a first goal, “we could have scored the second one, but suddenly [they scored], we went to get nervous, lost focus and paid dearly. It hurts. We tried to give everything.”
Zahavi said external factors also affected the team. “Many players haven’t played recently, we don’t play at home, there were things that affected us,” he said in reference to the ongoing war with Hamas in Gaza, which erupted after the terror group slaughtered 1,200 people in southern Israel on October 7.
The qualifying game was hosted by Israel as a “home” game in Felcsut, a Hungarian village of around 1,900 people.
“I hope we meet at the Euros,” Zahavi said, if Israel wins in the playoffs in four months.
Meanwhile, in addition to Romania, the Netherlands and Switzerland also secured places at Euro 2024 on Saturday, and France racked up the biggest-ever win in European Championship qualifying by beating Gibraltar 14-0.
France’s 14 goals against Gibraltar broke the team’s record for its biggest-ever win and also set a record for the competition.
Kylian Mbappe had a hat-trick as nine different French players scored goals, with one own-goal for Gibraltar. France’s previous biggest win was a 10-0 victory over Azerbaijan in 1995. The previous record in European Championship qualifying was Germany’s 13-0 win over San Marino in 2006. France had already qualified for next year’s tournament.
On Saturday, The Netherlands needed a win over Ireland to be sure of qualifying and Wout Weghorst gave his team the lead in the 12th minute, blasting a shot into the top-right corner. The goal was awarded despite Weghorst appearing to pull on Ireland defender Nathan Collins’ jersey just before he received the ball.
The Netherlands had 18 shots to Ireland’s three but couldn’t score again.
Switzerland, meanwhile, drew 1-1 with Kosovo to make sure of qualifying and continue a run of not missing any major tournament since Euro 2012. But the game continued a troubling Swiss trend to let leads slip.
Switzerland dominated possession but couldn’t get through the Kosovo defense until Ruben Vargas headed in a deflected ball in the 47th. Kosovo’s Muhamet Hyseni leveled the score in the 82nd with a shot in off the post. It was Switzerland’s fifth draw in six games, and in all of those draws Switzerland conceded at least one goal after the 80th minute.
A draw was enough for Switzerland to qualify because Romania won against Israel.