Nations League PIX: France win in Croatia; Italy unbeaten

Mbappe strike gives France 2-1 win in Croatia

France stretched their unbeaten run against Croatia to eight games after a late goal by Kylian Mbappe gave the world champions a 2-1 win in their Nations League top-tier Group 3 match on Wednesday.

The result left France second in the group on 10 points from four games, behind Portugal on goal difference after the European champions brushed aside Sweden 3-0. Croatia have three points and the Swedes none.

France beat Croatia 4-2 in the 2018 World Cup final before defeating them by the same score in last month’s reverse Nations League fixture.

“We knew we’d be in a real battle,” France coach Didier Deschamps told French TF1 television.

“We started very well and it’s a pity we didn’t go two goals clear as Kylian had a big chance. We did what we needed to do in the second half.

“It’s not because we won a trophy in 2018 that you win by clicking your fingers. You have to look at the way the opponents play too.”

Antoine Griezmann fired France into an eighth-minute lead when he drilled the ball home off the underside of the bar from 12 metres after Domagoj Vida failed to clear a Ferland Mendy cross from the right.

Mbappe missed a gilt-edged opportunity to make it 2-0 as he shot wide from close range with the goal at his mercy, while visiting keeper Hugo Lloris kept out Mario Pasalic’s shot from three metres with a reflex save.

Croatia midfielder Nikola Vlasic equalised in the 65th minute, unleashing a sublime shot with the outside of his foot past Lloris after good work by Luka Modric and Josip Brekalo.

Substitute Paul Pogba missed a sitter for France before the visitors secured victory 11 minutes from time.

It was a crafty three-touch move as Pogba found Lucas Digne with a long pass from inside his own half and the left back volleyed a cross into the penalty area for Mbappe to slide in and steer the ball past keeper Dominik Livakovic.

Croatia defender Dejan Lovren rued his team’s concentration lapses.

“France are ruthlessly efficient and they will punish you every time you switch off, even for a split second,” he told reporters.

“Playing against them is very frustrating because you can be as entertaining as you like but to no avail. The three points is all that matters.”

Italy extend unbeaten run with Dutch draw but lose top spot

Italy extended their unbeaten run to 19 games with a 1-1 draw at home to the Netherlands on Wednesday, although they were knocked off the top of their Nations League group in the process.

Lorenzo Pellegrini put Italy ahead in the 16th minute of an entertaining game but Donny van de Beek levelled nine minutes later as the Dutch ended a run of three games without scoring.

Italy, with six points from four games, were overtaken at the top of League A Group One by Poland who beat Bosnia 3-0 and have seven. The Dutch are third with five.

However, that did not bother Italy coach Roberto Mancini.

“We’ll win the last two games and we’ll qualify,” he said.

The match was staged in Bergamo, where Italy last played in 2006, as a tribute to the northern city which was at the epicentre this year of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy.

The hosts, who have won 14 games and drawn five since their defeat in Portugal in September 2018, went ahead with their first real attack.

Nicolo Barella’s diagonal crossfield pass found Pellegrini who collected the ball in his stride and clipped his shot past Jasper Cillessen.

Barella, who has flourished under Mancini’s leadership, was again Italy’s top player as he repeatedly opened up the Dutch defence.

Italy threatened from a similar move but, just as they seemed to be getting on top, the Dutch equalised.

Frenkie de Jong broke down the left and crossed, Memphis Depay’s shot was blocked and Van de Beek reacted quickly to fire the rebound into the top of the net.

The game could have gone either way in an end-to-end second half but neither side could put the finishing touch to their approach work.

Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma saved his side with an excellent block from Depay while, at the other end, Hans Hateboer lost the ball to Ciro Immobile who had only Cillessen to beat but his shot was too close to the Dutch goalkeeper.

That summed up a frustrating night for Immobile, Serie A’s top scorer last season, who missed a similar chance in the first half.

Eriksen penalty earns Denmark win over 10-man England

Christian Eriksen’s penalty on his 100th appearance for Denmark earned his side a 1-0 win over England in their Nations League clash at Wembley on Wednesday as the hosts played more than half the game with 10 men.

Former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Eriksen powered his spot-kick past Jordan Pickford in the 35th minute, a couple of minutes after England centre back Harry Maguire had received a red card for a second booking.

Defeat ended a run of nine successive home wins for England, who beat top-ranked Belgium on Sunday, while Denmark, who have lost just two of their last 40 international matches, celebrated their first victory over England at Wembley since 1983.

To rub salt into the home wounds Reece James, England’s best player on his full debut, was also shown a red card after the final whistle for confronting referee Jesus Gil Manzano.

England slipped to third place in Group A2 which is now headed by Belgium with Denmark above England on goal difference.

“Disappointed to lose the match but extremely proud of how we responded to going down to 10 men,” said England manager Gareth Southgate, who rather surprisingly opted not to send on Aston Villa’s creative midfielder Jack Grealish when chasing the game.

“We had a few chances that on another day would have gone in. The 10 men changes the game and they get a soft penalty.”

While it was a memorable night for Danish playmaker Eriksen, it was a disappointing one for England who suffered only their second home defeat in 32 competitive internationals.

There were some positives, however, notably an encouraging full debut for Chelsea right back James who was arguably England’s most effective attacking option, only to blot his copybook as tempers flared at fulltime.

Denmark, playing with the same side that beat Iceland at the weekend, started brightly with Kasper Dolberg having a couple of half chances and Eriksen pulling the strings but England had begun to dominate when everything changed after 32 minutes.

Maguire, who had been booked for a rash foul on Yussuf Poulsen, took a poor touch near the halfway line and his attempted recovery tackle, while taking the ball, also caught Dolberg to earn the Manchester United man a second yellow.

Three minutes later, with England still re-organising, a long ball into their area caused hesitation in the home defence between Kyle Walker and Pickford and when Thomas Delaney went down the referee pointed to the spot.

It was a harsh decision but with no VAR to save England, Eriksen thumped his penalty past Pickford.

England enjoyed plenty of possession after the break without looking overly dangerous although Denmark needed an incredible save by Kasper Schmeichel to preserve their lead.

When Declan Rice headed the ball into the area and Mason Mount connected with his head from close range, a goal looked certain but somehow Schmeichel clawed it away.

England huffed and puffed late on and Harry Kane’s goalbound header was cleared off the line as Denmark hung on.

Portugal brush off Ronaldo absence to outclass Sweden

Goals from Bernardo Silva and a brace from Diogo Jota gave Portugal a comfortable 3-0 win over Sweden in the Nations League on Wednesday as the hosts made light of the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo due to a positive COVID-19 test.

Ronaldo’s only contribution to the game was a post on Instagram around kickoff time urging on his team mates as he remained in quarantine, and they proved more than equal to the task.

William Carvalho could have given the home side the lead in the opening minutes but his header came back of a post and bounced away to safety, and Sweden’s defence struggled to deal with Portugal’s pace and precision.

Silva opened the scoring in the 21st minute as Portugal won the ball back in the middle of the field and quickly countered, with Jota firing a pinpoint pass to Silva in the penalty area for a perfect first-time finish.

Marcus Berg went close to equalising for Sweden with a powerful shot which hit the post, but the more the Swedes attacked the more vulnerable they were to Portugal’s lightning-quick counter-attacks.

Jota got on the scoresheet just before halftime, lashing home Joao Cancelo’s cross from deep on the right to make it 2-0, and he added a superb third with a solo run and thumping shot in the 71st minute.

Sweden coach Janne Andersson will miss his side’s next Nations League game against Croatia following his second yellow card of the tournament, the 57-year-old showing his frustration with refereeing decisions that went against his team.

With 10 points from four games, Portugal top Group 2 in League A on goal difference ahead of France, who beat Croatia 2-1 in Zagreb. The Swedes are bottom of the group after slumping to four straight defeats.

Lukaku powers Belgium back to winning ways against Iceland

Stand-in captain Romelu Lukaku scored twice as Belgium got back to winning ways with a 2-1 away victory over Iceland in the Nations League on Wednesday.

Lukaku opened the scoring inside 10 minutes and added a penalty before halftime after Birkir Saevarsson had levelled for Iceland.

Belgium moved to the top of the League A Group 2 standings following England’s defeat at home to Denmark that dropped Gareth Southgate’s side down to third.

Iceland, who had lost all their previous games in the competition, equalised within eight minutes of Lukaku’s opener and full back Saevarsson had other chances in a sprightly performance.

The hosts were without coach Erik Hamren and his entire backroom team on the bench after an unnamed staff member contracted COVID-19.

Belgium, however, proved too powerful and moved to nine points from their four games in the group, two above Denmark and England.

Belgium’s 13-match unbeaten run ended on Sunday when they lost to England at Wembley and they travelled to Iceland with an injury-depleted squad, missing captain Eden Hazard and his deputy Kevin De Bruyne.

Lukaku proved an able replacement as he led from the front, using his strength to open the scoring in the ninth minute.

Toby Alderweireld lofted a pass from the halfway line to him inside the Iceland box and Lukaku was able to shrug off two defenders as he chested the ball down, managed to get a lucky bounce and then turned and powered it home.

A defence-splitting pass from Runar Mar Sigurjonsson set up the 35-year-old right back Saevarsson for the equaliser at the end of a neat move from the hosts.

John Dadi Bodvarsson might have given Iceland the lead 10 minutes later after Belgium were dispossessed on the edge of their area but his effort was blocked.

Eight minutes before halftime, Lukaku was hacked down by Holmar Eyjolfsson as he attempted a shot from a tight angle and instead won a penalty, which he then converted for his 55th international goal.

Lewandowski double steers Poland to 3-0 win over Bosnia

Robert Lewandowski showed his predatory instincts as he scored two superb goals to help Poland to a 3-0 home rout of 10-man Bosnia in their Nations League top-tier Group 1 match on Wednesday.

The result left the Poles top of the section on seven points from four games, one ahead of Italy who were held to a 1-1 home draw by the Netherlands. The Dutch have five points and Bosnia have two.

The Bosnians were on the back foot from the start but their task was made more difficult in the 15th minute after central defender Anel Ahmedhodzic was shown a straight red card for tripping Lewandowski with the striker through on goal.

Lewandowski missed a close-range sitter and then hit the post from the edge of the penalty area before he finally broke the deadlock with an unstoppable shot in the 40th minute, as Kamil Jozwiak teed him up with some neat footwork.

Karol Linetty made it 2-0 on the stroke of halftime with a clever downward header into the far corner past goalkeeper Ibrahim Sehic, as Lewandowski turned provider with a sublime first-time pass into the midfielder’s stride.

Lewandowski put the icing on the cake for the home side with another trademark finish in the 52nd minute, side-footing the ball into the top right corner after he beat the offside trap to meet an inch-perfect Mateusz Klich cross.

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