With the UEFA Nations League’s matchday 1 complete, here’s a look at three early trends to emerge out of the tournament.
The UEFA Nations League is in full swing following the completion of matchday 1. The tournament, while still having to complete five more matchdays, has seen some early trends emerge.
For starters, the big game this past Thursday between Spain and Germany in League A’s Group 4 ended in a 1-1 draw. It was a predictable scoreline given how evenly matched these teams were heading into the contest, especially given the absence of a very large part of the Bayern Munich contingency on the German side.
Italy, as usual, got off to a slow start on Friday following their 1-1 draw against fellow Group 1 opponent Bosnia and Herzegovina, a game the Azzurri actually trailed. England, meanwhile, looked to avenge their defeat to Iceland at the 2016 European Championship. Instead, Saturday’s Group 2 encounter looked as if it would end in a scoreless draw until Raheem Sterling tallied the winner in stoppage time.
Sterling’s goal off a penalty kick produced the most-exciting finish of matchday 1 and the start of what is expected to be a very emotional set of group-stage games over the next two months despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Here are three takeaways from the tournament’s opening set of matches.
Mbappe comes through for France
The defending World Cup champions defeated Sweden in Group 3 on Saturday 1-0 thanks to a goal Kylian Mbappe. The PSG striker, fresh off his defeat at the hands of Bayern in last month Champions League final, was able to score what turned out to be the winning goal in the 41st minute despite the French being without Paul Pogba. The midfielder missed the game after recently testing positive to COVID-19.
The French were the better side, squandering several chances along the way, but it was an overall positive first step for the 21-year-old Mbappe and his teammates as they prepare for a World Cup final rematch this Tuesday against Croatia. Mbappe’s goal, from a nearly impossible angle, once again put on display just how much of a talent he is when France needs him most.
Portugal wins even without Ronaldo
Group 3 favorites Portugal, winners of last year’s inaugural Nations League, grabbed all three points on Saturday, routing Croatia 4-1 despite the absence of superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, out with a toe injury. Nonetheless, the Portuguese defense did a great job keeping Croatia off the board while their offense was lethal throughout much of the game.
Portugal’s budding star Joao Felix scored his first senior goal for his country, another sign that the Atletico Madrid striker has a bright national team future. Croatia, meanwhile, need to quickly regroup if they want to avoid another rout against France.
Poland not so tough without Lewandowski
In Group 1, the Netherlands defeated Poland 1-0 on Friday. The result wasn’t the biggest surprise given how strong this rebuilt Dutch side are since missing out on the World Cup two years ago.
Instead, the absence of striker Robert Lewandowski, given the night off after winning the Champions League with Bayern, really showed as the Polish attack struggled form much of the game. Lewandowski, the best player in the world at the moment, should give his country a substantial offensive boost once he returns to the lineup.