NATIONS LEAGUE ROUND-UP: FRANCE QUALIFY FOR FINALS; ENGLAND SUFFER DEFEAT IN BELGIUM
26 Nations League games were played across Saturday and Sunday with the race for promotion and relegation set to be decided this week.
The line-up for the final tournament is starting to take shape following some big games in League A.
Portugal 0-1 France
France became the first team to book their place at next October’s Finals with a narrow win at the Estádio da Luz.
Both sides went into this crunch clash knowing that a win would seal qualification for the final four, and N’Golo Kanté’s close-range strike at the start of the second half sealed all three points for ‘Les Bleus’.
Reigning champions Portugal had arguably been more impressive in the previous group games, seeing off Croatia and Sweden comfortably and taking a point from the Stade de France.
However, they started very poorly on Saturday and didn’t create much until the latter stages when José Fonte headed against the post and João Cancelo’s teasing cross was missed by everyone.
France host relegation-threatened Sweden on Tuesday as they look to complete their group campaign unbeaten.
Belgium 2-0 England
Belgium got revenge on England for The Three Lions’ win at Wembley last month as Roberto Martínez’s side ended the visitors’ hopes of making it out of Group A2.
It wasn’t a bad performance from the former World Cup winners, with Jack Grealish starring on his first competitive start for his country.
They couldn’t find a goal though, and first-half strikes from Youri Tielemans and Dries Mertens were enough for three points for Belgium in Leuven.
England are now guaranteed to finish third, with Denmark able to leapfrog Belgium and qualify for the finals if they can beat The Red Devils on Thursday.
Bulgaria 1-2 Finland
Finland continued their excellent form ahead of making their major tournament bow at the European Championship in the summer.
Not only did Markku Kanerva’s men make it to the Euro’s ahead of the likes of Greece and Bosnia & Herzegovina, they now have a great chance of promotion to the top division of the Nations League after victory in Bulgaria.
Norwich striker Teemu Pukki has been behind a lot of that form with his lethal finishing and he got on the scoresheet in Sofia before Minnesota United midfielder Robin Lod doubled the visitors’ lead.
Galin Ivanov missed a penalty for Bulgaria, and although Dimitar Iliev did get one back for the hosts, Finland held on to keep the pace with Group B4 leaders Wales.
They travel to the Cardiff City Stadium in midweek looking for the three points that would secure an incredible promotion to join Europe’s elite.
Switzerland 1-1 Spain
Sergio Ramos cost his nation at St. Jakob-Park in Basel by missing two penalties, allowing Germany to leapfrog Spain at the top of the group.
Atalanta’s Remo Freuler gave Switzerland the lead with a stylish first-time finish as Luis Enrique’s side showed no signs of an improvement on their recent poor performances.
However, the visitors were handed a lifeline when Ricardo Rodriguez was harshly adjudged to have handled, but Yann Sommer kept out Ramos’ penalty down low to his right.
They were awarded a much clearer penalty later on in the second-half. Ramos tried a Panenka on his 177th cap for Spain, but it was easily saved by Sommer.
Gerard Moreno saved the Real Madrid centre-back with a late equaliser but the damage was already done and Spain must now beat Germany in Seville on Tuesday to qualify for the finals.
Italy 2-0 Poland
Italy have endured some tough defeats in recent times, but they have regained that winning mentality over the last couple of years and were able to extend their unbeaten run to 21 games on Sunday.
A comfortable 2-0 win over Poland saw them remain one point ahead of the Netherlands at the top of their group.
It has become quite a new-look side for the Azzurri since Roberto Mancini took charge, but the defensive pairing of Alessandro Bastoni and Francesco Acerbi kept out Robert Lewandowski and company.
A first-half penalty from Jorginho was complemented by Domenico Berardi’s second goal for the national team.
The comfortable success will put Italy in good stead ahead of their trip to Bosnia & Herzegovina, where they hope to secure a debut in the final tournament.