UEFA Nations League completed its third round of group stage drama of the 2020/21 campaign over the weekend. The first international break of the season saw Europe’s top footballing nations fighting for the ultimate glory in the UEFA Nations League. Spain continues to lead their group as Germany got their first win of the competition. France and Portugal could not find a breakthrough throughout the 90 minutes whereas Croatia triumphed over Sweden. Group 1 of League A finished goalless in the third round of the UEFA Nations League 2020/21.
In this column, FootTheBall brings you all the action from the top games of the third round of UEFA Nations League 2020/21.
Ukraine 1 – 2 Germany
(League A, Group 4)
Joachmin Low was in a dire need of a victory to revive Germany’s hopes of qualification to contest the UEFA Nations League finals next year. After yet another draw against Turkey – this time a friendly fixture – Die Mannschaft returned to winning ways in the third round of the UEFA Nations League 2020/21.
Ukraine hosted the Germans at the NSK Olimpijs’kyj in Kyiv, having never lost at home soil against Germany.
Well … Germany had other plans.
Ukraine made eight changes to the side that lost to Spain last month. Ukraine were decimated due to their players suffering from Covid-19 and injuries. Heorhiy Bushchan got his first competitive debut in goal. Illia Zabarnyi, who started is the heart of defense alongside Vitaliy Mykolenko, also made his first competitive appearance. 4-2-3-1 was the choice of weapon for Andriy Shevchenko.
Die Mannschaft welcomed four Bayern players and two from their rivals, RB Leipzig for this match. Manuel Neuer wore the captain armband in goal. Lukas Klostermann and Marcel Halstenberg operated as the wing-backs in Low’s 3-4-2-1 formation. Serge Gnabry lead the attack upfront.
After a minute and a half into the game, Germany gained control of the ball and orchestrated the match on their terms. The hosts relied on counter-attacks to try their luck against Neuer. As a result, Gnabry forced an early save in the fifth minute. It was a clever deceive from Gnabry to drop back and ask for the ball only to fake it. Gnabry’s maneuver successfully lured Ukraine’s defense as Julian Draxler chipped the ball for Gnabry to shoot from the centre, outside the box.
Matthias Ginter, however, drew first blood after 20 minutes. Antonio Rudiger’s square pass from the right side, inside the box, found its way through Gnabry’s legs for Ginter to strike it from the edge of the six-yard box.
Germany got another big chance, ten minutes before the break. Ginter’s diagonal pass, directed towards the box, saw Gnabry rising high to head it at the near post. Bushchan made a heroic save to keep the score at one-nil before half-time.
Germany continued to torment Ukraine in the second half. Four minutes into the second 45 minutes and Leon Goretzka pounced on Bushchan’s poor handling of the ball from Klostermann’s cross to double the lead for Germany. With 14 minutes left on the clock, Ukraine reduced the deficit through Ruslan Malinovskiy scoring from the spot following a foul from Niklas Sule.
England 2 – 1 Belgium
(League A, Group 2)
The Three Lions edged closer to the qualifications after securing their second win in round three. Gareth Southgate switched to a three-man defense to counteract Belgium’s 3-4-3. Dominic Calvert-Lewin started as the lone striker after his impressive display in the Premier League during September. The Everton striker scored on his international debut against Wales in a friendly fixture. Jordan Henderson was the skipper for England, playing in the centre of midfield with Declan Rice.
The visitors were without their number one choice for the goalkeeper’s position as Thibaut Courtois was suffering from a hip problem. Simon Mignolet started in his stead. Leicester City’s Timothy Castagne and Youri Tielemans covered the left half of the midfield. Borussia Dortmund’s Axel Witsel and Thomas Meunier got the nod for the right-hand side. Kevin De Bruyne and Yannick Carrasco started in the attack on either side of Romelu Lukaku.
Belgium got the upper hand from the onset. Lukaku could have made it one-nil in the opening ten minutes. The Inter Milan striker could not capitalize on a cut-back cross from Castagne and saw his headed attempt loft away on the right-hand side of the box. Lukaku, nonetheless, scored after six minutes of his first attempt. Eric Dier could not deal with Lukaku’s pace and power and brought him down inside his box. The Belgian forward fired the ball in the bottom right corner of the goal from the penalty-kick.
The hosts got a number of chances after the opening 30 minutes. However, it was Thomas Meunier who gave away a penalty after pulling Henderson down following England’s corner. Marcus Rashford reverted from the spot, six minutes before half-time.
England had a brighter spark after the first half. Calvert-Lewin took three shots in the opening 15 minutes of the second half. Mason Mount made the difference as his deflected strike from the left-half space inside the box flew over Mignolet, into the far corner of the goal.
18 minutes before the full-time whistle, Carrasco failed to convert a brilliant through-ball from the outside of De Bruyne’s right foot as Belgium lost their first game of the UEFA Nations League 2020/21.
France 0 – 0 Portugal
(League A, Group 3)
The 2018 World champions went head-to-head against the current UEFA Nations League title holders. This game featured a cutthroat competition between the two sides.
Didier Deschamps made nine changes from France’s thumping seven-one win in a friendly game over Ukraine. Benjamin Pavard and Olivier Giroud were the only two players to keep their place in the starting eleven as the hosts deployed a 4-1-2-1-2 formation.
Portugal played with their preferred 4-3-3 structure. Cristiano Ronaldo started from the right-wing with Bernardo Silva taking the opposite flank. Joao Felix was given the duties of a centre-forward. Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes started in the centre of midfield alongside William Carvalho and Danilo Pereira. Manchester City’s new recruit, Ruben Dias appeared alongside Pepe in the heart of the defense.
After a raid from the hosts in the first 20 minutes, Portugal knocked on France’s door through Ronaldo, Nelson Semedo, and Fernandes. Portugal almost got the first goal of the night – and potentially the winner – when Felix intervened to connect on a free-kick, denying Ronaldo a clear chance, 14 minutes before the break. Nonetheless, the Portuguese skipper erred on a brilliant diagonal cross from Raphael Guerreiro, five minutes into the second half.
You simply don’t see Ronaldo missing those!
As a result, France and Portugal had to settle for a point apiece.
Norway 4 – 0 Romania
(League B, Group 1)
Having missed the chance to qualify for the UEFA Euro competition against Serbia, Erling Haaland inspired Norway to a four-nil rout of Romania in the third round of the UEFA Nations League 2020/21. While it was a close encounter in terms of possession of the ball, the hosts got the better of their rivals by a whopping 21 shots compared with Romania’s 12 attempts.
Haaland opened the scoring after Martin Odegaard slipped a sumptuous through-ball and the Borussia Dortmund striker found the back of the net with his first chance.
Alexander Sorloth made it two-nil for his side in the 39th minute, 14 minutes after Haaland missed a one-v-one against Ciprian Tatarusanu. The Dortmund striker finally got his second goal of the night, four minutes after the hour mark. Sander Berge’s long-range attempt landed on Odegaard’s feet who teed it up for Haaland at the far post.
Ten minutes later, Haaland completed his hattrick to round off a man of the match performance. Haaland received the ball at the edge of the box with his back facing the goal. He repelled pressure from two markers, making a run to the left side and blasted the ball past the Romanian goalkeeper. Haaland registered a shot accuracy of 71% from seven shots.
Halfway into the competition – Who is heading for glory?
🔸 UEFA Nations League results!🔹
— UEFA Nations League (@EURO2024) October 11, 2020
(Featured Image: Twitter/@EURO2020)