Israel and Ukraine could face each other in a playoff final for a spot at soccer’s Euro 2024

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Israel and Ukraine, two countries currently fighting wars, could face each other for a spot at next year’s European Championship.

The two national teams were put on the same qualifying path in Thursday’s playoff draw, with a possible deciding match in March.

Israel was paired with Iceland, while Ukraine will face Bosnia-Herzegovina in the playoff semifinals. The 12 playoff teams will play the six semifinal matches on March 21. All three finals are scheduled for March 26.

Neither Israel nor Ukraine can currently host games at home because the wars. If they both advance to the playoff final, they could meet in a neutral country.

In the other playoff brackets, Wales will host Finland and the winner will then host Poland or Estonia, and Georgia or Luxembourg host either Euro 2004 champion Greece or Kazakhstan.

European soccer governing body UEFA allocated home advantage for the finals in the three brackets. The 12 teams entered the playoffs based on their results and standings in Nations League groups played last year. Their standing in Euro 2024 qualifying groups this year did not affect the seeding for Thursday’s draw.

The winners of the three finals will play at the 24-team Euro 2024 tournament, joining the 20 teams that qualified directly and host Germany.

Israel, which became a UEFA member in 1994, has never qualified for the European Championship.

Ukraine is back in the playoffs for a major soccer tournament after losing at Wales 1-0 last year in a match for a spot at the World Cup in Qatar. That match had to be delayed after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Ukraine is “the strongest” of the 12 teams in the playoff semifinals, Bosnia coach Savo Milošević said.

“It’s special to play against Ukraine in these days but it’s also special because I think among these 12 teams maybe they are the best,” Milošević told The Associated Press at UEFA headquarters.

Ukraine dropped into the playoffs after a 0-0 draw with Euro 2020 champion Italy on Monday when a win would have qualified the team alongside group winner England.

Wales coach Robert Page said it was better to avoid Ukraine this time after the emotion of their game in Cardiff in June 2022.

“This is now just down to football,” Page said of facing Finland, recalling that the game against Ukraine “was really emotional at the time because the war had just broken out. How they even got the team together is commendable. To manage all that at the time was very difficult.”

When the Euro 2024 draw is conducted on Dec. 2 in Hamburg, there will be three vacant slots in the lowest-ranked pot of No. 4 seeds for the playoff winners.

Neutral venues for the playoffs do not need to be confirmed until a few weeks before the games. Ukraine has played recent “home” games in Germany and Israel has gone to Hungary.


AP soccer:

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