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Last-gasp Serbia seal progress at Turkey's expense

Serbia will defend their title in Hungary this summer after a Group 4 campaign that ultimately hinged on a 96th-minute equaliser against Turkey in their opening game.

Turkey's Altuğ Taş and Serbia captain Nemanja Maksimović during the teams' meeting
Turkey's Altuğ Taş and Serbia captain Nemanja Maksimović during the teams' meeting ©Sportsfile

Serbia coach Veljko Paunović said that "now we'll work at defending our title" after his charges edged out Turkey to seal a UEFA European Under-19 Championship finals berth.

The holders advanced on goal difference with a comfortable 3-1 victory over Group 4 hosts the Republic of Ireland, but Paunović admitted that qualifying ultimately hinged on their opening game last Wednesday. Trailing Turkey 1-0 with 95 minutes on the clock and both teams down to ten men, captain Nemanja Maksimović headed in a remarkable equaliser.

"I think the decisive moment was definitely the last-gasp, 96th-minute goal against Turkey," he said. "The goal that earned us European Championship qualification." There was still work to do, even if Serbia made it look fairly easy as they overwhelmed Iceland 6-0 thanks to two goals apiece from Sergej Milinković-Savić and Veljko Simić.

With Turkey only edging a 2-1 victory over Ireland, İbrahim Aydın scoring the winner nine minutes from time, it left them firmly in the box seat going into Monday's final fixtures. Opponents Ireland still had slender ambitions of their own having beaten Iceland 2-1 on the opening day but they were well beaten in Dublin, two more Simić goals helping Serbia to a 3-1 triumph.

Turkey, targeting a big win to boost their goal difference, had got off to a dream start when Enes Ünal headed in early on against Iceland, but they were trailing by the half-hour mark, with Kristján Finnbogason firing in a sublime free-kick. Turkey recovered in the second period of a thrilling encounter, Mustafa Altıntaş scoring a hat-trick as they won 4-3 to finish level on seven points with Serbia but far adrift on goal difference.

"We're delighted to qualify for the European Championship finals in Hungary," said Paunović. "We are so proud of this young side, they gave everything and, all in all, we deserve to reach the final round."