A round-up of Saturday’s action in the Nations League.
IMAGE: England’s goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale thwarts Italy’s Giovanni Di Lorenzo as teammate Kieran Trippier looks on during the UEFA Nations League A Group 3 match at Molineux, in Wolverhampton, on Saturday. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
England’s winless start to their Nations League campaign continued as they were held to a 0-0 draw at home by a youthful Italy side at a near-empty Molineux on Saturday.
The first meeting between the nations since the tumultuous Euro 2020 final at Wembley last year was a tame affair with precious little to cheer for the 2,000 children allowed to attend despite a UEFA ban.
England’s Aaron Ramsdale was the busier of the two keepers, with crucial saves in the first half to deny Sandro Tonali and Matteo Pessina as Italy cut through England’s defence.
With Harry Kane left on the bench until the 65th minute, England lacked attacking spark and the closest they came to scoring was Mason Mount’s first-half shot against the bar.
Raheem Sterling wasted a glorious opportunity after the break but England did not do enough to earn the win.
IMAGE: England’s Raheem Sterling is challenged by Giovanni Di Lorenzo. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Gareth Southgate’s side are bottom of Group A3 with two points from their opening three games while Italy, who failed to qualify for the World Cup, are top with five points.
England host Hungary on Tuesday while Roberto Mancini’s Italy are away to Germany.
The match was played without fans as part of a UEFA punishment for crowd trouble during last year’s Euro 2020 final at Wembley which Italy won on penalties.
While England’s lineup had an experimental feel and the atmosphere was flat, the lack of quality and their over-cautious style will be a cause for concern with the World Cup looming in Qatar in November.
It is the first time they have gone three games without a win since Southgate took charge and they have not scored a goal from open play in their last three games.
“We improved upon a lot of things today,” Southgate said. “We had two or three really good chances that we needed to score and lacked that bit of sharpness in the final third.
“But the general performance I was pleased with. I thought the second half we were the better team.”
IMAGE: Italy’s Giovanni Di Lorenzo tries to get past England defender Kieran Trippier. Photograph: Claudio Villa/Getty Images
Mancini would have been the happier of the two managers as his new-look side played the better football, starting from the third minute when Davide Frattesi side-footed a superb chance wide of the post.
Mount should have scored when he was played in on goal but his curling effort rattled the crossbar.
But the slicker moves came from Italy and Ramsdale made a stunning save with his legs to deny Tonali who looked poised to score from Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s volleyed cross.
The Arsenal keeper then had to react smartly to keep out Pessina’s looping shot on the stroke of halftime while Gianluca Scamacca also fired another chance over.
Sterling, captain for the night, should have put England ahead but his scooped finish over the crossbar rather summed up the side’s misfiring forward line.
Johnson strikes late as Wales hold Belgium
IMAGE: Brennan Johnson celebrates scoring the equaliser for Wales during the UEFA Nations League A Group 4 match against Belgium, at Cardiff City Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Photograph: Alex Pantling/Getty Images
Wales held Belgium to a 1-1 draw to claim their first point in their UEFA Nations League group campaign after Brennan Johnson scored a late equaliser to cancel out a Youri Tielemans goal in Cardiff.
The equaliser was Johnson’s first senior goal for Wales and was followed by a heart-in-mouth moment for the 21-year-old when the linesman’s flag went up for offside.
VAR overturned the decision, however, and the referee awarded the goal, giving Johnson and the team an excuse to celebrate twice.
“It was horrible. Waiting for that celebration, it’s so tense,” Johnson said. “But when I saw the referee point to the centre, it was unbelievable.”
Wales nearly had the perfect start when Ethan Ampadu fired a half-volley into the top corner in the fifth minute but his joy at scoring a first international goal was short-lived after VAR chalked off the effort for an offside in the build-up.
Belgium dominated possession in the first half but it was Wales who created better chances, with Gareth Bale and Connor Roberts both going close to opening the scoring but shooting over.
IMAGE: Youri Tielemans celebrates with Yannick Carrasco and Leandro Trossard after putting Belgium ahead in the match. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Belgium’s best chance of the half fell to Leandro Trossard, who fired wide when he had an open net to aim at, while Kevin De Bruyne also tested Wayne Hennessey in goal with a low shot that stung the keeper’s gloves.
However, Belgium pounced five minutes into the second half when a slick passing move down the right finished with Michy Batshuayi patiently holding up the ball in the box before Tielemans arrived and drove his shot into the bottom corner.
But Wales equalised in the 86th minute when Aaron Ramsey’s fine footwork allowed him to find his fellow substitute Johnson who scored with aplomb, with VAR overruling the linesman’s flag after a nervous wait for the home side.
The result still leaves Wales at the bottom of the group at the halfway stage while Belgium are second, three points behind the Netherlands, who drew with Poland in Rotterdam.
Wales play their next game in the Netherlands while Belgium travel to Poland on Tuesday before the curtain comes down on the season.
Ireland thrash Scotland for first Nations League win
IMAGE: Alan Browne scores Ireland’s opening goal in the Group E match against Scotland, at Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photograph: Molly Darlington/Reuters
Ireland’s second choice strikers Troy Parrott and Michael Obafemi scored a goal each as they beat toothless Scotland 3-0 in the UEFA Nations League on Saturday, helping Stephen Kenny’s side win their first match in the competition.
Ireland took an early lead when defender Shane Duffy won the ball in the air following a corner kick, and midfielder Alan Browne bundled his cross over the line in the 20th minute.
Parrott nodded home to make it 2-0 for the hosts eight minutes later following a brilliant weighted cross from Obafemi, who lofted the ball over the top of Scottish defence to land right in front of Craig Gordon’s goal.
IMAGE: Michael Obafemi celebrates scoring Ireland’s third goal with Troy Parrott, Alan Browne and Jason Knight. Photograph: Molly Darlington/Reuters
Obafemi stunned the home crowd at the Aviva Stadium once more after he unleashed a superb shot from outside the box six minutes into the second half to seal their first win in 13 Nations League matches.
The Irish moved two places up to second in League B Group One standings while Scotland, also on three points, dropped to third.
Ukraine, who beat Armenia 3-0 in the other group match, remain top of the group.