There were wins for Belgium, Ukraine and the Scots, while World Cup-bound Wales suffered late heartbreak against the Netherlands in Cardiff. There are nine more Nations League fixtures on Thursday, with Switzerland’s clash against Spain topping the bill.
Here, Mirror Football rounds-up the action from Brussels, Cardiff, Dublin and Glasgow – including a top display from a critic of the Nations League and the Republic of Ireland’s touching tribute to the people of Ukraine amid the devastating conflict in eastern Europe.
Scots bounce back with win
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 competition’s finals will drag on for at least another four years.
Yet it’s not all doom and gloom for Steve Clarke’s side. They recovered from their loss to Ukraine with a confident 2-0 home win against Armenia, with defenders Antony Ralston and Scott McKenna scoring their first goals for Scotland.
After competing in their first major tournament in 23 years at last summer’s Euros, the Scots will be confident of ending their World Cup agony sooner rather than later. Clarke has turned things around at Hampden Park… and one defeat won’t change that.
No luck for the Irish
Action Images via Reuters)
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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 may continue for a while yet based on their opening two results of the Nations League.
Stephen Kenny’s side lost 1-0 to Armenia in Yerevan on Saturday and suffered the same scoreline against Ukraine at the Aviva Stadium four days later. A second-half strike from midfielder Viktor Tsygankov secured all three points for the visitors. A worry for the Irish.
Coleman’s touching tribute
Although the Republic of Ireland didn’t cover themselves in glory on the pitch, they did off it. Captain Seamus Coleman, who didn’t play, presented visiting fans with sunflowers before the ground united in applause to pay tribute to Ukraine.
The hosts showed solidarity with the people of stricken nation – who remain under siege from Russian attack – by giving away 3,500 tickets to refugees. They also handed out thousands of Ukrainian flags for spectators to wave in a show of solidarity.
The Republic of Ireland have welcomed more than 30,000 Ukrainian refugees into their country since Russia’s invasion in February. “You began doing this [supporting Ukraine] right away,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky told the Irish parliament in April.
“Thank you for supporting sanctions against Russia. Thank you for the humanitarian and financial support extended to our country and thank you for your caring about Ukrainian people who found shelter on your land.”
Kevin DOES care
AFP via Getty Images)
Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne admitted he wasn’t a big fan of the Nations League earlier this month. “For me, the Nations League is unimportant,” he told reporters. “We have to play those matches, but it’s a kind of practice 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 – as well as a brace from Leandro Trossard – secured a 6-1 win.
Wales drunk on success
Some hangover was inevitable for Wales after their historic win over Ukraine to reach the World Cup just three days ago.
Robert Page made seven changes to his starting line-up and, inevitably, all focus is on Qatar rather than the Nations League campaign. The much-changed starting line-up gave several fringe stars a chance to stake their claim as the battle to book a place on the plane begins to intensify.
It was a somewhat disjointed display from Wales, who thought they had maintained their unbeaten home record and kept the feel-good factor going with a stoppage time equaliser from Rhys Norrington-Davies, only for Wout Weghorst to go up the end and grab a Netherlands winner.
Norrington-Davies’ goal came after he was particularly lively at left wing-back, picking up where the outstanding Neco Williams left off against Ukraine with dynamic display, often carrying his side up the pitch. His first international goal – a tremendous header at the back 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, given the chance to lead the line after his stunning season for Nottingham Forest, and whilst not his finest performance, he looked dangerous when they got him on the ball and gained priceless international experience as he looks to make his mark at the World Cup this winter.
Overall, Page and Wales will take plenty of positives – just as they did from their 1-1 draw in Poland last week. For a team that has relied so much on its big names in the past, there is no denying the talent pool is getting deeper and increasingly reliable when called upon.