Turkey, France and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia clinched progress from the UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 preliminary round on Monday as the last mini-tournaments concluded.
While Norway and Finland won the two pools that ended on Sunday and Latvia went into today's matches knowing first place in Group B was assured even before their 2-1 defeat of Armenia, the other three sections went to the wire. With their conclusion, the lineup for the qualifying round from 24 to 27 February is complete.
In the closest race, Group A in Izmir, all four teams were on three points at kick-off. After the first game today only two remained in contention as Montenegro defeated debutants Switzerland 5-2, aided by four unanswered goals before the break.
That meant that the only way Montenegro could miss out if was Turkey beat Moldova as the hosts had defeated Sveto Lesar's side on Matchday 1. Moldova took an early lead through Oleg Hilotii but Cihan Özcan struck twice late in the first half. Cihan was sent off in the 22nd minute and Denis Coicev took advantage to equalise only for Burak Yıldırım to edge Turkey back ahead with eight minutes to go and Aziz Sağlam made it 4-2 late on.
Turkey coach Ömer Kaner was delighted to progress and already looking forward to the next challenge. "It was like a final," he said. "Moldova are more experienced than us and it was played at a very high tempo. I'm really happy we advanced for the second time in our history. I'm sure we'll continue our success in Ukraine."
Cihan added: "The most unexpected things can happen in this game. Turkey have the potential to become one of the leading countries in futsal." Turkey will visit Ukraine to face the hosts, Hungary and Belgium in qualifying round Group 5.
Bulgaria needed only a draw to hold off France in Group D after both had previously beaten hosts Malta and Lithuania. Viktor Viktorov's opener for Bulgaria was cancelled out by David Le Boette and only 100 seconds remained when Kamel Hamdoud won it 2-1 for France.
"I am very pleased with our qualification," France coach Pierre Jacky told UEFA.com. "We have waited a long while for this. We go to the final phase with a lot of modesty and most of all to learn a lot from the experience. Today we demonstrated that if you keep on fighting and trying, you will be rewarded." Holders Spain, hosts Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan lay in wait for Les Bleus in qualifying round Group 1 while Lithuania beat Malta 5-1 for third place.
It was also a straight play-off in Group C, with hosts FYROM needing to overcome Georgia, who had a better goal difference from their defeats of Estonia and England. Zoran Leveski struck early in either half to spark home celebrations with David Bobokhidze's last-minute effort a mere consolation for the visitors. FYROM now play in qualifying round Group 3 against Portugal, Belarus and hosts Poland.
"We knew we would have a very difficult match and that's the way the game turned out," said FYROM coach Vasil Skenderovski. "We were victorious over a very strong opponent and will travel to Poland for the qualification matches full of confidence. The draw has given us a very difficult group, maybe even the hardest group of them all, where Portugal are the favourites but all the other teams will battle for the second spot. I think with one or two reinforcements our chances are not that small."
Third place in the group went to England after they came from two down to beat Estonia 3-2. Second behind Latvia in Group B were hosts Iceland, who defeated Greece 5-4 to finish their first futsal competition on six points.
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