World champs in Euro 2008

LONDON - World champions Italy qualified for the European Championship and took France along with it by beating Scotland 2-1 on Saturday on an injury-time goal by Christian Panucci.

LONDON - World champions Italy qualified for the European Championship and took France along with it by beating Scotland 2-1 on Saturday on an injury-time goal by Christian Panucci.

Israel scored a late winner to beat Russia 2-1, putting Croatia into the final tournament and keeping England in realistic contention. The English now just need to draw with Croatia on Wednesday, whereas a Russian victory in Tel Aviv would have meant almost certain elimination.

Making his 50th appearance for the Azzurri, veteran fullback Panucci headed in a free kick by Andrea Pirlo after Barry Ferguson's 65th-minute goal had cancelled out a goal scored by Luca Toni in the second minute.

The victory put Italy at the top of Group B with 26 points from 11 games. France is second with 25 points and Scotland has 24, having lost its 12th and final game. Italy still has to play the Faroe Islands on Wednesday, when France visits Ukraine.

"We knew that we had to play a physical match and given the wet conditions even more so," Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said. "Credit goes to all the players. They deserve it after all they have given."

Scotland coach Alex McLeish was furious that the officials awarded Italy the late free kick that led to Panucci's winner.

"We didn't deserve to lose that game. We battered the Italians in the second half and they were dead men walking at the end," he said.

"The set piece that led to the second goal was an unbelievable decision. Alan Hutton was in control of the ball and the guys barged him down. How can that be a free kick to Italy? It's a terrible decision."

Italy, France and Croatia will join defending champions Greece, three-time champions Germany, the Czech Republic, Romania and co-hosts Austria and Switzerland in the December 2 draw.

Group C is also going down to the final round of games, even though Greece is sure of one of the spots.

Turkey came from behind to leapfrog Norway into second place by winning 2-1 in Oslo. Erik Hagen gave the Norwegians a 12th-minute lead and the home side appeared on course to book their place.

But Emre Belozoglu and Kahveci Nihat hit back for the visitors, which now holds a one-point advantage over Norway. Norway should beat last-place Malta, but the Turks host Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Finland scored twice in 11 minutes to beat Azerbaijan 2-1 and maintain its slim chance of advancing from Group A. Mikael Forssell and Shefki Kuqi scored after Makhmud Gurbanov had threatened an upset for Azerbaijan. - Sapa-AP

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