UEFA Nations League: The highs, the lows and the winning runs

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It was another entertaining round of fixtures in the Nations League over the weekend, as the competition once again fulfils its purpose, to put teams against those that are more of a similar standard.

So what were the highs, lows and shocks of this set of fixtures? Let’s find out!

Highs

It was a game to remember for Norway as they continue to build around talisman Erling Braut Haaland, who netted an impressive hat-trick. Haaland has only six caps for Norway, he also has six goals, and you can’t help but think that at the tender age of 20, he will be looking at overtaking Jorgen Juve’s record of 33 goals, and cement his place in history.

Norway will be looking at getting the good times rolling, with talented youngsters starting to play at the higher levels in Europe. Haaland (Dortmund) and Martin Odegaard (Real Madrid) are some of Europe’s brightest prospects, and when you throw in the likes of Sander Berge (Sheffield United) and Kristoffer Ajer (Celtic) who are both 22, the team looks very promising indeed, with talent who will be playing for years to come.

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It was also a weekend to remember for Gibraltar, who made it two wins from two in the competition. This is exactly the reason this tournament exists, to get nations like Gibraltar playing against fellow minnows, in matches that both teams will go into thinking they can win.

Gibraltar had not won a competitive game until this tournament in 2018, and since then, they have grown as a nation. Back-to-back wins, being top of their group, with zero goals conceded has been a dream for a nation who are 195th in the FIFA World Rankings, and have just beaten a team 15 places higher than them.

Estonia vs North Macedonia. 108th vs 66th. One epic match. Estonia were yet to pick up a point in this Nations League. They came up against a North Macedonia who were fresh after their victory against Kosovo, that sees them one step closer to qualification, to appear in their first ever major competition. The game was a high scoring affair, that finished 3-3. It contained a ridiculous Estonia own goal (seriously, go and find it), and a fightback that saw North Macedonia score in the 80th, and 87th minute to rescue the draw.

Lows

It was a weekend to forget for many of Europe’s big hitters. The game that got many fans excited was the clash between France and Portugal. Despite a pitch that was full of talent, there was very little to shout about, with very few chances, and both teams struggling to hit the target. It was a let down, considering the stature of both nations.

It seems strange to say that it was a low point for a nation that won, but Croatia still didn’t look like a team that were the runners-up in a World Cup only two years ago. They edged a narrow victory over a Sweden team that by all accounts, have been going about their business well recently. In fact, in the group so far, Sweden are the nation that have threatened to pick up points against France and Portugal, with Croatia being well beaten by both. It will be a concern to Croatia, that their World Cup outing was looking more like a flash in the pan, not a sustainable level.

Italy and the Netherlands also struggled in group A1. Both nations are looking to make their mark back on the international stage, after failing to qualify for the World Cup in 2018. Both played out 0-0 draws, with Italy being held by Poland, and the Netherlands by Bosnia and Herzegovina. Both nations have an abundance of talent, and they will be looking at games like these, as those they must be winning if they want to hit the heights of years gone by.

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It was a nervy round for Germany and Spain, who both only narrowly won their games. Germany came up against Ukraine, who pushed them all the way. Seemingly cruising at 2-0, Ukraine converted a penalty, which led to a tense last 15 minutes, however Germany pulled through. It wasn’t a result to shout from the rooftops about, however it was Germany’s first win in the competition, a feat they failed to achieve in the last tournament, which in itself, is a pretty low point.

Spain edged a 1-0 victory over Switzerland, in a game where the only goal came from a Swiss defensive blunder. Spain failed to show their vast talent, only hitting the target on one other occasion. Switzerland have struggled in what is a tough group, but they will probably feel that this was an opportunity missed, with Spain not looking like the side we are used to seeing.

A Nation Improving

There are only two nations to maintain 100% starts so far. Gibraltar, who we looked at earlier, and one other nation, who you probably wouldn’t have predicted. Montenegro brushed past Azerbaijan, beating them comfortably 2-0. They have now won three in a row, and sit top of their group. It was a good performance, with a goal in each half.

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After narrowly missing out on qualification to the World Cup in 2018, many thought Montenegro would go on to have a good outing in Euro 2020, however they lost five, and drew three in their qualifier group, seeing them rooted to last place. They lost twice to England, who beat them 5-1, and 7-0. Their previous Nations League outing saw them only beat Lithuania, and fail to qualify for the Euro’s this way.

They have really regrouped, and have shown that they can once again be a team that pushes to compete to play in the major tournaments.

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