MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - It is 62 years since all four British home nations last qualified together for the finals of a major tournament but after Wednesday’s Euro 2020 penalty shoot-out playoff drama, such a prospect is now within reach.
Scotland and Northern Ireland find themselves one game away from qualification for next year’s European Championship and the chance to join Wales and England in the delayed finals.
The last time all four made it to a major tournament was the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden.
Scotland beat Israel on penalties at Hampden Park, after their game ended goalless and now face a tough trip to face Serbia in a one-legged game on Nov. 12.
Northern Ireland will be at home to Slovakia on the same day after their shoot-out victory in Bosnia and Herzegovina after a 1-1 draw.
Neither side will start as favourites but they showed a determination in two tight games that will serve them well.
What made the wins more impressive was that neither country had ever previously been involved in a penalty shoot-out -- but it was clear that both sides had prepared hard for such an eventuality.
As well as excellent goalkeeping and penalty-taking, late substitutions were clearly designed to get the best spot-kick takers on the field.
The prospect of qualification is particularly tantalising for Scotland who last appeared in a major finals at the 1998 World Cup in France and have endured 22 mostly miserable years since.
“It’s a big chance. We spoke about hopefully making a small piece of history for the team,” Scotland manager Steve Clarke said, noting that the Serbia game will be a “tough trip and tough ask”.
“We still have that in front of us. That was the objective, to make sure we are in the (playoff) final next month and we have achieved that.”
Northern Ireland will be looking to make it back-to-back appearances in Euro finals after their qualification for 2016, when they reached the knockout stages, before losing to Wales.
Slovakia’s win over the Republic of Ireland ended the chance of an all-Irish playoff decider, but Northern Ireland will fancy their chances against the Slovaks.
Skipper Steven Davis, who became the team’s most capped player after his 120th appearance, is relishing the chance of another finals appearance.
“There is a huge carrot dangling in front of us,” he said.
In 1958, Wales and Northern Ireland went out in the quarter-finals, to Brazil and France respectively, while England and Scotland failed to get out of the group stage.
None of the home nations have ever won the European Championship.
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Christian Radnedge
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