Moldova confirmed fourth place in UEFA EURO 2004™ Group 3 with a 2-1 win at home to Belarus in their penultimate qualifier.
One game to go
The victory moved the home side up to six points from seven matches. Moldova will close their qualifying campaign on 11 October when they visit the Netherlands. Belarus, meanwhile, have finished bottom of the section with three points from eight games.
Both sides were missing key players, with minor injuries restricting Moldovan pair Vadim Boret and Serghei Clescenco to the substitutes' bench, while Belarus lined up without Aleksander Hleb, who had joined the Under-21 side to strengthen their own qualification bid for a place in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship.
The game began at a high tempo, with both sides creating early chances. In the fifth minute, Moldova's Serguei Dadu shot straight at Gennadi Tumilovich from the edge of the penalty area, while at the other end, Moldovan goalkeeper Evgenii Hmaruc denied Vitali Bulyga in a one-on-one ten minutes later.
The breakthrough eventually arrived in the 26th minute, as Dadu headed a Serghei Covalciuc cross into the net. Aleksandr Covalenco could have doubled the lead five minutes later, but saw his effort strike the crossbar. Bulyga and Dadu both then had opportunities before the break but neither could convert.
Belarus on top
Both sides continued to create chances in the second period, but Dadu and Serghei Rogaciov both missed when clean through for Moldova. The visitors came closest to equalising in the 80th minute, when Sergei Omelyanchuk's effort hit the post and Roman Vasilyuk put the rebound wide.
As Belarus threw men forward, the home side were able to exploit the extra space and scored a second goal on the counterattack a minute from time, Covalciuc making it 2-0. However, Belarus immediately halved the deficit as substitute Vasilyuk converted a penalty, but it was too little, too late.
"We had more opportunities to score and deserved this victory," said Moldova coach Viktor Pasulko. "We relaxed a bit after the break, but I'm satisfied with our display anyway. We have a very young team in this campaign, so this match showed that we're making progress. We can produce good performances, and I hope that victories will come."