NATIONS LEAGUE ROUND-UP: Belgium, Ukraine, Scotland and the Netherlands all picked up wins on Wednesday night as the end-of-season competition continues to entertain
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The UEFA Nations League continued on Wednesday night, with the Republic of Ireland, Wales and Scotland in action.
There were victories for Belgium, Ukraine and the Scots, while World Cup-linked Wales suffered a late heartbreak against the Netherlands in Cardiff. There are nine more Nations League matches on Thursday, with Switzerland’s clash against Spain headlining.
Here, Football Mirror brings together action from Brussels, Cardiff, Dublin and Glasgow – including a high profile exhibition from a League of Nations critic and the Republic of Ireland’s touching tribute to the Ukrainian people amid the devastating conflict in Europe from the east.
Scots bounce back with victory
This time last week Scotland were forced to accept their World Cup dream was over. They were beaten 3-1 by Ukraine at Hampden Park in their play-off semi-final, meaning their 24-year wait to play in the final of the competition will last at least another four years.
However, all is not dark on the side of Steve Clarke. They bounced back from their loss to Ukraine with a confident 2-0 win at home to Armenia, with defenders Antony Ralston and Scott McKenna scoring their first goals for Scotland.
Having played in their first major tournament in 23 years at the Euros last summer, the Scots will be confident of ending their World Cup agony sooner rather than later. Clarke changed things at Hampden Park… and a loss won’t change that.
Bad luck for the Irish
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The Republic of Ireland have failed to qualify for the last three major tournaments – including this year’s World Cup – and their drought could continue for some time to come based on their first two results from the League of Nations.
Stephen Kenny’s side lost 1-0 to Armenia in Yerevan on Saturday and suffered the same scoreline against Ukraine at Aviva Stadium four days later. A second-half strike from midfielder Viktor Tsygankov secured all three points for the visitors. A concern for the Irish.
Coleman’s moving tribute
Although the Republic of Ireland did not cover themselves with glory on the pitch, they did off it. Captain Seamus Coleman, who did not play, presented sunflowers to visiting supporters before the pitch united in applause to pay tribute to Ukraine.
The hosts have shown solidarity with the people of the stricken nation – who remain besieged by Russian attacks – by offering 3,500 tickets to the refugees. They also handed out thousands of Ukrainian flags for spectators to wave in solidarity.
The Republic of Ireland has welcomed more than 30,000 Ukrainian refugees to its country since the Russian invasion in February. “You started doing that [supporting Ukraine] right away,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the Irish parliament in April.
“Thank you for supporting the sanctions against Russia. Thank you for the humanitarian and financial support to our country and thank you for caring about the Ukrainians who have found refuge in your land.”
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Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne admitted he was not a huge Nations League fan earlier this month. “For me, the Nations League is not important,” he told reporters. “We have to play these matches, but it’s kind of a training campaign.”
Well, he certainly looked interested on Wednesday, finding the back of the net against Poland. Robert Lewandowski scored the opener in Brussels before goals from Axel Witsel, De Bruyne, Leander Dendoncker and Lois Openda – plus a brace from Leandro Trossard – secured a 6-1 win.
Wales drunk on success
A hangover was inevitable for Wales after their historic win over Ukraine to reach the World Cup just three days ago.
Robert Page has made seven changes to his starting line-up and inevitably all the focus is on Qatar rather than the Nations League campaign. The heavily modified starting lineup has given several fringe stars a chance to claim their place as the battle to secure a seat on the plane begins to escalate.
It was a somewhat scrappy display from Wales, who thought they had maintained their unbeaten record at home and kept the feel-good factor going with a stoppage time equalizer from Rhys Norrington-Davies, only for Wout Weghorst to go up. at the end and grabs a Netherlands. winner.
The Norrington-Davies goal came after he was particularly sharp at left-back, picking up where the exceptional Neco Williams left off against Ukraine with a dynamic display, often carrying his team onto the pitch . His first international goal – a superb header at the far post – was well deserved.
Joe Morrell also impressed in Joe Allen’s midfield role, although his partner, Manchester United youngster Dylan Levitt, struggled to make an impact after his excellent season on loan at Dundee United.
There were high hopes for Brennan Johnson, who had the chance to lead the line after his superb season for Nottingham Forest, and although it was not his best performance, he looked dangerous when they have put him on the ball and gained invaluable international experience as he looks to make his mark at the World Cup this winter.
Overall, Page and Wales will have plenty of positives, just like they did in their 1-1 draw in Poland last week. For a team that has relied so heavily on its big names in the past, there’s no denying that the talent pool is getting deeper and more reliable when called upon.