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Italy qualify, Kazakhstan stun Portugal

Italy are the first team to qualify to join hosts Serbia in the 2016 finals but all the other six groups will go to the wire, Kazakhstan having stunned Portugal.

Italy captain Gabriel Lima during the decisive victory against Belarus
Italy captain Gabriel Lima during the decisive victory against Belarus ©Cyfrasport

State of play
Qualified: Italy (holders), Serbia (hosts)
Assured of play-off: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia, Romania
Can also automatically qualify: FYR Macedonia, Kazakhstan, Portugal

Group 1
Bosnia and Herzegovina made it two wins out of two in Sarajevo as they thrashed Latvia 7-3.

Russia remain top on goal difference and only need a draw against the hosts on Saturday following a 3-0 defeat of the Netherlands who now look extremely unlikely to repeat their 2014 qualification.

Group 2
Spain saw off Hungary 5-0 to move on to six points with a Miguelín hat-trick, the first from deep inside his own half as he lobbed goalkeeper Gábor Matkovics.

FYR Macedonia, who drew with Hungary on Wednesday, edged past Switzerland 7-6 in a game the hosts led 5-1 in Skopje. Six different Swiss players scored and FYR Macedonia must overcome Spain on Saturday for automatic qualification.

Group 3
• Holders Italy ousted Belarus 2-1, taking the lead when Aleksandr Gayduk diverted Humberto Honorio's corner into his own net. Daniel Giasson extended the advantage and Belarus were able to respond only with an Aleksandr Chernik goal.

• Italy knew they would win the group if the team they beat on Wednesday, Finland, avoided defeat against Poland – who had drawn with Belarus. Twice Finland had leads erased before Joni Pakola gave them what proved a decisive 3-2 cushion.

Group 4
Ukraine cruised on to six points with a 9-2 hammering of 2014 finals hosts Belgium, five-goal Mykola Bilotserkivets unplayable at times as his side came back from 2-1 down.

Azerbaijan are above Ukraine on goal difference and require only a draw in Baku on Saturday, Rafael inspiring an 11-2 triumph against Denmark with a raft of assists.

Group 5
• The Czech Republic secured a second victory, firing three goals on the counterattack in a 4-0 success over Norway.

Slovenia's first-half display was perhaps their best ever as they went 7-1 up on their way to an 11-2 win against France. Igor Osredkar's treble made him the first player to score 50 for Slovenia while teenager Nejc Hozjan got his first international goal. Slovenia lead the Czechs on goal difference ahead of their Saturday decider.

Group 6
Slovakia sailed to a second victory as they brushed aside Turkey 5-1. Gabriel Rick followed up his hat-trick against Armenia with a double here.

Croatia lead Slovakia on goal difference going into Saturday's decider after their 8-0 dismantling of Armenia in Dubrovnik. Dario Marinović netted twice for the second game running.

Group 7
Kazakhstan surprised 2014 semi-finalists Portugal 3-1. Ricardinho had put Portugal ahead but Kairat Almaty's Higuita was magnificent in goal for Kazakhstan. Cardinal was dismissed for Portugal and although they saw out the two minutes with four men, Kazakhstan were not to be denied. Nikolay Pengrin levelled and then in the last five minutes Mikhail Pershin and regular scorer Higuita secured victory.

Romania opened up a three-point advantage over Kazakhstan and Portugal, dispatching Georgia 4-1 with a fine show of counterattacking.

On Saturday, Romania will qualify with a point against Portugal, or a single-goal defeat if Kazakhstan beat Georgia.

Portugal must win, and by three goals if Kazakhstan triumph.

Kazakhstan need to win and hope Portugal beat Romania 2-0 to gain automatic qualification, though any victory would clinch a first-ever play-off.

Reporters: Emil Gasevski, Daniel Olkowicz, Abbas Zahidi, Rok Šinkovc, Elvir Islamović & Paul-Daniel Zaharia

• All seven groups conclude on Saturday.

• The seven group winners will advance to join hosts Serbia in the final tournament from 2–13 February 2016.

• The seven runners-up plus the best third-placed team will enter the play-offs on 15 and 22 September 2015 (drawn on 10 June). The winners of these four two-legged ties will complete the 12-nation lineup for the finals.

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