UNL League A review: Dutch renaissance, France Germany comeuppance


History has been born with the inaugural UEFA Nations League. Teams have had their ups and downs with late dramas and fallen giants. But how did the teams at the top of the European tournament do on their season debuts?

Group A1:

Germany were relegated from their Nations League group capping off a miserable 2018 (photo credit: Goal.com)

Holland ran out winners of the group after an incredible comeback, drawing with Germany meaning they have qualified for next summer’s Semi-Finals.

Germany have had a poor run when it comes to competitive games, getting knocked out of the World Cup group stages and now being relegated down to Group 1B, they will join Belgium and Portugal.

Germany opened up their Nations League campaign by drawing 0-0 with World Cup winners France, although both goalkeepers were kept busy.

That draw was followed up by France hosting Holland and beating them 2-1 for the first time they were back in the French capital since winning the World Cup in Russia.

Germany lost to Holland in the next match as The Oranje ran out 3-0 winners. The Germans looked strong in attack creating chances but as soon as Virgil Van Dijk scored for the hosts the away side almost gave up.

Their fragile defence has suffered repeated setbacks  and have a major lack of confidence issue which saw the side self-implode. Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum got the others as Holland completed their destruction of beating the former world champions.

Again, Germany lost following that as they travelled to Paris with the match ending 2-1 in a game where Antoine Griezmann’s double broke German hearts.

Joachim Low’s men have failed to get a competitive win since beating Sweden 2-1 in Group F of the World Cup.

Holland gave themselves an incredible chance of going through to the Semi-Finals as they beat France 2-0 at home to open up the group. Winning the game meant that France have finally lost their 15-game unbeaten run. The result relegated Germany.

With only pride to play for, Die Mannschaft hosted Ronald Koeman’s Dutch side who went into this match needing at least a draw against the former World champions. This was achieved with the match ending 2-2.

Group A2:

The Swiss battered Belgium 5-2 to qualify from their group (photo credit: Getty)

Switzerland will be playing in the top group of the tournament next year as well as making it through to the Semi-Finals in Portugal.

Elsewhere, Iceland will be relegated to League 2.

The first game of the group would see the promoted side face off against the hopelessly relegated side with the game ending 6-0, six different scorers put their name in history.

Iceland struggled to assert themselves into the game and got dominated by a confident Red Crosses.

Belgium travelled to Reykjavik to make their Nations League debut starting it in style beating the hosts 3-0, Eden Hazard scored from the spot while Romelu Lukaku got one in the first half and the other in the second.

The Red Devils had a lot of the ball but were wasteful of their chances having only five shots on target out of their 20 overall shots.

The Belgians and Swiss battled in early October. This time it would be Belgium who’d get the win and top the table in Brussels, after Romelu Lukaku got one either side of Dinamo Zagreb striker Mario Gavranovic put the eventually group winners back in the game.

Relegated Iceland would host the next game where they did a great job of holding off Vladimir Petkoivc’s side but again they just weren’t good enough and by the 67th minute were 2-0 down.

They did manage to get a late goal when Alfred Finnbogason scored a screamer but that wouldn’t be enough the loss would see his side relegated.

Before the game that decided promotion, Iceland had to travel to Roberto Martinez’s men and were downed courtesy of Valencia striker Michy Batshuayi, who scored twice in the second half to all but confirm Belgium as the group winners.

It would take a miracle for Switzerland to win the group, but this would become a reality after conceding two goals to the away side. By the 25th minute they needed four goals to win and they did beating Belgium 5-2 in a classy affair.

It started with Monaco attacker Nacer Chadli giving away a penalty which Ricardo Rodriguez dispatched nicely that was only the start of the torturous night ahead that included a Haris Seferovic which makes him the Nations League top scorer.

Group A3:

Poland endured a miserable Nations League group stage, getting relegated in the process (photo credit: Getty).

European Championship winners Portugal have gained promotion to League A. They will also be competing in the Semi-Finals in their home country in June.

Poland were the side that got relegated after failing to win a single match though draws against both Italy and Portugal will be pleasing they were, overall, very disappointing.

The Italians had the chance to put the failings of not making the World Cup behind them but instead, Roberto Mancini’s first competitive game in charge ended in a 1-1 draw after Jorginho put it in from the spot.

It had been the Chelsea midfielder’s fault that Robert Lewandowski was allowed to deliver the cross which resulted in Piotr Zielinski volleying the ball in and giving the Poles the lead.

Portugal beat Italy 1-0 without Cristiano Ronaldo to go top of the group courtesy of an Andre Silva goal. The striker, currently on to Sevilla from AC Milan finished a great effort after Bruma’s cross.

Poland faced off against the table-toppers Portugal in Chorzow. Though the Polish outfit put up a good fight, the current European Champions were just another class winning 3-2.  Bernardo Silva’s winner proved that these two sides are different classes.

The Winger picked the ball up from about 40 yards burst towards the box and curled the ball into the back of the net from the edge of the box going seeing the ball go into the bottom corner.

Mancini’s Italy then  beat Poland 1-0 thanks to a late goal by defender Cristiano Biraghi. They maybe should have scored more with Jorginho and Federico Chiesa hitting the woodwork while Wojciech Szczesny made a number of important saves for Jerzy Brzęczek’s side.

It was confirmed via a draw that Italy would not be able to get promoted as they failed to make good use of their chances against Portugal, who were confirmed as the champions of the group and also got promotion to A2 after drawing 0-0.

The final game of the group saw already promoted Portugal face off against already relegated Poland. It was a match for pride in which the away side would be the happy as they came from behind to draw 1-1.

Silva opened the scoring for his side with a header before that was cancelled out by Napoli forward Arkadiusz Milik who scored from the spot.

The hosts were frustrated on a night that didn’t go to plan as midfielder Danilo Pereira gave away the penalty that would stop his side winning overall on the night.

Group A4:

Harry Kane’s late winner against Croatia saw England qualify from their Nations League group (photo credit: Daily Mail).

England topped their group after winning against Croatia at Wembley on their final match. This will see them compete in next June’s Semi-Finals.

Croatia will play in League 2 having finished below Spain.

The group started at Wembley where England would suffer defeat at the hands of Spain. It started off perfectly for Gareth Southgate’s men as they led through Marcus Rashford but only 120 seconds passed before the Spanish levelled through Saul Niguez.

Rodrigo would covert the winning effort getting on the end of a free-kick to make it 2-1, though England may have felt a little hard done by as Welbeck’s goal didn’t stand as he’d been ruled to have failed Spain keeper David De Gea.

Spain built on their Wembley win by destroying Croatia 6-0 in one of the shocks of the competition. Perhaps the manner of the defeat the most surprising from a Croatia perspective.

Next came Croatia and England’s disappointing 0-0 stalemate which was played behind closed doors in Rijeka. The game being played without fans as punishment for a swastika being visible on the Croatian pitch moments before a European qualifier in 2015.

The group then heated up with Spain getting beaten 3-2 in Seville by Gareth Southgate’s young squad. Despite two second-half goals from the hosts England held on for a vital victory.

England scored three in the first half through a double by Raheem Sterling who’d ended his 27-match run without scoring, Marcus Rashford got the other.

That run of losing would be costly for the former World Cup champions of 2010 as they would next travel to Zagreb where a late Tin Jedvaj goal, would open up the group completely after giving Croatia the 3-2 win.

England were finally able to beat the Croatians at the third time of asking as Harry Kane scored with five minutes to spare making it 2-1 after a crazy last 12 minutes for England fans who may have thought their side were heading out after Andrej Kramaric’s goal early in the second half.

Substitute Jesse Lingard scored the equaliser before Kane emerged as the hero he so often is for both club and country.



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