Serbia snaps drought, Spain’s Gavi suffers knee injury

With the conclusion of Sunday’s games, 17 nations have now booked a spot at the 24-team 2024 UEFA European Championship in Germany. Four more countries will join them Monday in the final set of group matches before the final three qualifiers are determined via the playoff next year.

Here are the four biggest takeaways from Sunday’s slate:

Serbia snaps 24-year Euro drought

When Serbia last competed in the quadrennial continental event almost a quarter-century ago, it didn’t even do so as an independent nation: Serbia and Montenegro played under the Yugoslavia banner in 2000.

On Sunday, Serbia qualified on its own and at Montenegro’s expense — though it almost needed a little help from Hungary in the end. In its final Group G game, Serbia had to come from behind to get the point it needed in a 2-2 tie with last place Bulgaria, rendering the outcome of the Hungary-Montenegro result (a 3-1 win for the Hungarians) moot.

Miloš Veljković put the hosts ahead early in the first half. But two Bulgarian goals in the second put the pressure back on Serbia, which eventually pulled level in the 82nd minute through another defender, left back Srđan Babić, to seal the deal:

Lukaku scores four in Belgium’s rout

A day after Kylian Mbappé’s hat trick paced France in a record-smashing 14-0 win over Gibraltar, Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku one-upped his fellow attacker.

Lukaku scored four goals Sunday in the first half of the Red Devils 5-0 pasting of Azerbaijan. His fourth came with almost 10 minutes still to play before the intermission:

Belgium — which got its fifth goal from Leandro Trossard —  and France both qualified for Euro 2024 last month. But while Les Bleus are among the top title favorites, next summer’s tournament represents perhaps the last chance for what’s left of Belgium’s “Golden Generation” — former star winger Eden Hazard retired earlier this year — to win a major competition. If Lukaku enters the main event next June on the kind of form he displayed on Sunday, they might even have a chance.

Gavi’s injury a major blow for Spain

Another young star likely to miss out next summer is Spanish playmaker Gavi. La Roja are headed to Germany, having booked their spot last month. But Barcelona man Gavi almost certainly won’t be after suffering what, according to multiple reports, is a torn ACL in his right knee in Sunday’s 3-1 win over Georgia.

The injury will leave Spanish coach Luis de la Fuente ruing his lineup choice for the meaningless match; Gavi was one of just two holdovers from last week’s win over Cyprus.

Three-time former European champ Spain is still a contender to win it all next summer. But unless Gavi somehow recovers in time, the odds of De la Fuente’s side hoisting the trophy just got a lot longer.

Haaland’s Norway officially out

With any hope of a top two finish in Group I ruled out after losing at home to Spain last month, Norway was hoping to still be in contention for a playoff spot by the time Sunday’s match against already-qualified Scotland kicked off.

Unfortunately for them, the Norwegians’ fate was sealed the night before, when Romania beat Israel 2-1 to ensure that the world’s most prolific striker — Manchester City goal machine Erling Haaland — won’t participate in the Euros.

Haaland wasn’t available for Sunday’s match at Hampden Park in Glasgow because of a foot injury. But the visitors still gave a good account of themselves, coming back from a goal behind twice in a highly entertaining, rain-soaked match that ended 3-3.

Had Norway played that well earlier in qualifying, perhaps things would’ve turned out differently. Instead, soccer fans across the planet must wait until at least the 2026 World Cup in the United States to see Haaland compete for his country on the global stage.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United Statesmen’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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