UEFA Nations League Roundup 2020/21: Chapter Two
International football action continued across Europe. The UEFA Nations League gathered pace to stage their last round of September. The European juggernauts collided over the past three days to move closer to the qualifications.
SWITZERLAND 1 – 1 GERMANY
(LEAGUE A, GROUP 4)
After an unlucky start against Spain in the first round of group fixtures, Germany switched to an attacking theme against Switzerland. Joachmin Low applied a 3-4-1-2 formation at the St. Jakob Park in Basel. The Germans made one change from their previous fixture. Matthias Ginter was introduced as the wide centre-back on the right-hand side in place of Emre Can.
Vladimir Petkovic made three changes from the wide areas. Silvan Widmer and Loris Benito operated as the wing-backs as Switzerland continued with their 5-4-1 formation. Renato Steffen replaced Ruben Vargas on the left flank.
Germany were fairly the more exciting side in the first half. Die Mannschaft created better chances with Ginter used as a makeshift deep-lying playmaker. Low’s men penetrated Switzerland’s half using exquisite passing combinations. The movement between Julian Draxler, Toni Kroos, and Ilkay Gundogan opened passing channels. Niklas Sule and Antonio Rudiger were offered the chance to sweep forward and play line-breaking passes. As a result, an early chance arrived for Leroy Sane in the seventh minute. The Bayern Munich attacker collected the ball from the inside half-space on the right and dribbled diagonally to the opposite half-space before allowing Yann Sommer to save his shot.
The Swiss shot-stopper shall face more of this in the Bundesliga this season!
It didn’t take long for Germany to open the scoring. Germany overloaded the right-hand side of Switzerland’s box when Ginter made a back pass on the 13-minute mark. Gundogan connected with perfection from outside the box as his grounded effort crept inside the near post.
While Ginter’s involvement was a boon for Germany, it was also the reason for their sorrow. On occasions when Thilo Kehrer overlapped the right-wing, Germany were left exposed at the back. Breel Embolo, who played a more central role in this game, made a few threatening runs from that space during transitions. Switzerland made a successful raid two minutes before an hour. With Kehrer and Ginter out of defensive positions, Embolo received the ball in the left-half space. The speedster dribbled past Sule to assist Widmer making a darting run on the opposite side.
SPAIN 4 – 0 UKRAINE
(LEAGUE A, GROUP 4)
Luis Enrique and his cavalry climbed the top of Group 4 after an enthralling display against Ukraine.
Enrique made six changes that featured a debut for Sergio Reguilon as the left-back. Manchester City’s pivot, Rodri was recalled along with Gerard Moreno who started upfront with Ansu Fati. Moreno entered Estadio Alfredo di Stefano having scored three goals in three appearances for his nation.
Ukraine’s full-backs, Oleksandr Tymchyk and Bohdan Mykhaylychenko were given the vote of confidence from Andriy Shevchenko after a solid display against Switzerland in the previous fixture. Ihor Kharatin got his first cap for Ukraine, pairing up with Ruslan Malinovskyi in the heart of midfield.
La Furia Roja lived up to their name. The Spaniards were red hot and furious as they dominated the match. Ukraine used a similar approach deployed against Switzerland. They created a compact defensive block sitting at the halfway line. Shevchenko’s tactic to absorb pressure and hit Spain on the break never really consummated.
Spain controlled the ball for 70% of the time and camped in Ukraine’s half. The visitors were tormented by the attacking prowess of Ansu Fati and Reguilon. Fati earned a penalty in the opening two minutes of the game when Serhiy Kryvtsov brought him down in the 18-yard box. Sergio Ramos converted from the spot to make it one-nil for Spain.
Within the first 30 minutes, Spain were three-nil up. The hosts scored two quick-fire goals. Ramos completed a brace after a towering header looped over Andriy Pyatov. Dani Olmo, the creator of the goal, delivered a pin-point diagonal cross to Ramos in the right-half space inside the box. Kryvtsov’s aerial attempt was no match for Ramos. Three minutes later, Reguilon initiated another attack for Spain. The left-back intercepted Oleksandr Zincheko’s pass in Ukraine’s half. He fed the ball to Fati on the left who drifted slightly inside to adjust his angle for a far-post finish. The Barcelona prodigy became Spain’s youngest ever goal-scorer in his debut appearance.
While the hosts had already claimed three points, they added another goal in the closing stages of the match. Kryvtsov was, once again, the culprit. His poor clearance in his own box landed on Ferran Torres’s feet who finished it on a single touch.
NETHERLANDS 0 – 1 ITALY
(LEAGUE A, GROUP 1)
Two consecutive fixtures in Amsterdam and the Flying Dutchmen could manage only three points. Netherlands hosted Italy in the second round of the UEFA Nations League. Dwight Lodeweges brought in Donny van de Beek which placed Georginio Wijnaldum on the right flank. Tottenham Hotspur’s winger, Steven Bergwijn appeared as a substitute in the second half.
Roberto Mancini, on the other hand, made seven changes after a lowly performance against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Giorgio Chiellini returned for this crucial clash. Manuel Locatelli made his debut appearance for the Blues. Serie A top scorer, Ciro Immobile led the attack. Lorenzo Insigne retained his position on the left-wing while Nicolo Zaniolo filled the opposite flank.
Mancini used an effective strategy to play a direct game during the possession phase. Italy attacked in a 4-2-4 template. Leonardo Spinazzola turned the tables for his team. His overlapping involvement in the attacking phase allowed Insigne to play slightly inside. Consequently, nearly half of Italy’s attacks were created from the left-hand side of the pitch. Nicolo Barella added further pressure on the Dutch defense in an attacking midfielder role. Zaniolo provided width from the right-hand side.
17 minutes into the game and Italy produced a breath-taking maneuver. Spinazzola carried the ball from the left channel, drifted inside the box, and delivered a lofted cross. Zaniolo’s brave attempt with an overhead kick busted over the crossbar. The Italians continued to use their build-up to spray long-passes into their attacking line with Immobile operating as the target-man.
Gli Azzuri got their reward for their dominance in the injury time of the first 45 minutes. A series of passes between Jorginho, Immobile, Insigne, and Spinazzola created room for the Lazio center-forward to dip in a cross from the left-hand side of the box. An unmarked Barella jolted the ball with his head to score the only goal of the night. It was almost unbelievable to see Virgil Van Dijk leaving his opponent free. Moise Keane made an intelligent run to drag Nathan Ake in the six-yard box which opened space for Barella to thrust with power.
Keane encountered an opportune moment to double the lead in the penultimate minutes on the match. An erroneous header by De Jong changed the trajectory of the ball towards the Dutch backline. Keane was quick to steal the ball from under the nose of Quincy Promes. However, his arduous attempt failed to find the net in a one-V-one with Jasper Cillessen.
SWEDEN 0 – 2 PORTUGAL
(LEAGUE A, GROUP 3)
Having lost one-nil to France in their previous game, Sweden were determined to put up a show this time. Their manager, Janne Andersson, in an attempt to achieve the same, played a four-man midfield backed by a 4-man defense to stop the Portuguese force lead by none other than Cristiano Ronaldo. The superstar was back in the starting 11 and stepped on the field with 99 goals for his country.
Portugal lined up a more balanced 4-3-3 with Bruno Fernandes, Danilo Pereira, and Joao Moutinho playing right behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Joao Felix, and Bernardo Silva.
As the match kicked off, Sweden looked to remain more organized and play on their positions. This, however, was not enough to stop Portugal who maintained 68% possession and attempted a total of 21 shots throughout the 90 minutes.
Sweden, somehow, managed to hold Portugal’s attacking force until Gustav Svensson was handed a straight red card for his tackle on Joao Moutinho. Ronaldo completed a century from the set-piece as his free-kick curled past the Swedish keeper, Robin Olsen, into the top left corner.
— FootTheBall (@FootTheBall) September 9, 2020
The Portuguese skipper did not stop at 100 goals. With almost 20 minutes left for the final whistle, Ronaldo added another goal to his kitty. The Juventus forward pulled the trigger from outside the box to put the game to bed. Two-nil on the scoresheet and the reigning champions moved a step closer to the qualifications.
BELGIUM 5 – 1 ICELAND
(LEAGUE A, GROUP 2)
The Red Devils put up a fantastic show against Iceland as we witnessed one of the best team performances by any nation during this international break.
With Inter Milan’s goal-scoring machine, Romelu Lukaku left out from the squad, they played in a 4-3-3 formation. Dries Mertens, Michy Batshuyai, and first-time starter, Jeremy Doku started upfront. Their attack was supplemented by the PFA Player of the Year 2020, Kevin De Bruyne. Borussia Dortmund members, Thorgan Hazard and Axel Witsel started alongside.
Iceland, on the other hand, were more experimental and rotated their keeper as well as a striker for this clash.
Iceland took the lead early in the game with a cheeky chip from Holmbert Fridjonsson. Belgium, nonetheless, leveled with ease within the next two minutes as Witsel finished from a De Bruyne free-kick that had come off the woodwork. Michi Batshuayi added to Belgium’s tally to make the score two-one at half time.
As they were in the first half, Belgium continued to overpower Sweden after the break. Roberto Martinez’s men got two goals in a span of 20 minutes. Mertens made it three before Chelsea outcast, Batshuayi bagged the fourth goal for his team at the 69th minute. The debut goal from Jeremy Doku was the icing on the cake.
Belgium are now leading in Group 2 with two points above England.
FRANCE 4 – 2 CROATIA
(LEAGUE A, GROUP 3)
A repeat telecast of the 2018 FIFA World Cup finale. France routed Croatia, yet again, with the same score-line.
Didier Deschamps had to tinker for setting up the attacking line following Kylian Mbappe’s absence. The PSG forward was dropped after being diagnosed with the novel coronavirus infection. France used a 3-4-2-1 structure and were successfully able to hold the ball in the midfield. N’Golo Kante and Steven Nzonzi were central to France’s ball distribution process. Antoine Griezmann played in the hole behind Oliver Giroud and Wissam Ben Yedder.
Croatia, on the contrary, started with a 4-3-3 formation, looking to cover more ground and make the best of their midfield comprising of Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic, and Nikola Vlasic. They had Andrej Kramaric, Ante Rebic, and Ivan Perisic playing upfront.
Croatia drew first blood. After a quarter of an hour, Dejan Lovren made it one-nil for the visitors. France responded at the culmination of the first half. Griezmann equalized at the 43rd minute. France turned the tables in their favour when Anthony Martial’s deflected shot was given as Dominik Livakovic’s own-goal in the injury time.
Croatia reverted after 15 minutes into the second half. Vfl Wolfsburg’s wizard, Josip Brekalo got his name on the score-sheet. The 22-year-old managed to pull off a solo effort to get through the French defense and squeeze the ball past Hugo Lloris.
Croatia’s celebrations were, however, short-lived. Dayot Upamenco scored his first goal for Les Bleus. The French cavalry doubled their lead after 12 minutes. Griezmann won a penalty which got super-sub, Olivier Giroud’s name on the scoreboard.
The full-time score highlighted the strength of Didier Deschamp’s squad as France bagged six points after the first two rounds of the UEFA Nations League.
WHAT IS UP WITH THE OTHER NATIONS?
🚨 𝐑𝐄𝐒𝐔𝐋𝐓𝐒 🚨
Who did it best today?#NationsLeague
— UEFA Nations League (@EURO2020) September 6, 2020
⏰ RESULTS ⏰
😮 Big away wins on Monday…
🤔 Who impressed? #NationsLeague
— UEFA Nations League (@EURO2020) September 7, 2020
🚨 RESULTS 🚨
Performance of the night was from ______
🇵🇹 Ronaldo reaches 101-goal landmark with Portugal
🇫🇷 France win six-goal thriller
🇧🇪 Batshuayi double helps sink Iceland #NationsLeague
— UEFA Nations League (@EURO2020) September 8, 2020