Romelu Lukaku fires Belgium to Nations League finals as Italy also book spot
Romelu Lukaku scored twice as Belgium beat Denmark 4-2 on Wednesday to book a spot in the Nations League’s finals.
Roberto Martinez’s top-ranked team only needed a draw to qualify but signed off with victory that secured a five-point lead over Denmark and England in Group A2 – and ensured they joined France, Italy and Spain in next year’s finals.
Youri Tielemans and Kevin De Bruyne also netted for Belgium, though Thibaut Courtois’ own goal provided some late suspense.
Tielemans broke the deadlock inside three minutes when the Danes failed to clear a ball that the Leicester midfielder latched onto and fired into the bottom right corner.
A flash of brilliance from Christian Eriksen brought the visitors back in the match in the 18th minute. The Inter Milan player set up Martin Braithwaite with a fine long pass on and though the striker’s shot took a deflection, Jonas Wind headed home the rebound.
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The goal injected confidence into Denmark and Braithwaite had another chance to score only to fluff his one-on-one with Courtois.
But Belgium reclaimed the lead in the 58th minute when De Bruyne fed Lukaku and the forward’s effort took a deflection to loop beyond Kasper Schmeichel.
Lukaku then scored his 57th international goal with 20 minutes left with a header from Thorgan Hazard’s precise cross.
Courtois’ own goal came after he failed to control Nacer Chadli’s back pass but the mistake did not prove costly as De Bruyne made sure of the win with a shot into the far corner.
Elsewhere in Group A2, England signed off from their Nations League campaign with a 4-0 win over 10-man Iceland, with two-goal Phil Foden playing a starring role.
Italy pip Netherlands to reach final four
Italy reached the Nations League’s final four by beating Bosnia & Herzegovina 2-0.
Andrea Belotti and Domenico Berardi scored in a game that Italy dominated to ensure they finished top of Group A1 and earned the right to host the Nations League finals in October next year.
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Federico Bernardeschi also hit the crossbar late on with one of Italy’s numerous chances against a Bosnia side already relegated to League B.
Italy were beset with problems coming into the match, with coach Roberto Mancini and forward Ciro Immobile still out due to coronavirus, and several more players unavailable because of club quarantines and injuries.
But they dominated from the start and opened the scoring in the 22nd minute when Manuel Locatelli sent Lorenzo Insigne down the left flank and he crossed for Belotti, whose volley looped over Bosnia goalkeeper Kenan Piric.
Bosnia almost levelled shortly before half-time but Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma pulled off a great save at point-blank range to deny Smail Prevljak.
Insigne’s curled finish skimmed the outside of the far post and then Francesco Acerbis saw an effort flashed across goal and just wide of the right upright.
But the Azzurri finally doubled their lead in the 68th minute as Locatelli sent a ball over the top for Berardi to volley into the bottom right corner.
Elsewhere in the group, captain Georginio Wijnaldum scored a late winner as the Netherlands rallied from a goal down to beat Poland 2-1, handing new coach Frank de Boer back-to-back victories.
Kamil Jozwiak scored a scintillating solo goal to put Poland in front early, but Memphis Depay equalised for the visitors from the penalty spot, before Wijnaldum added to his two goals against Bosnia at the weekend to head home the winner.
Italy’s victory in Bosnia meant neither side could top the group, but the Netherlands finished second with 11 points from six matches, one behind the Italians, with Poland third on seven.
The ups and downs elsewhere…
Wales sealed promotion to League A of the Nations League after seeing off 10-man Finland 3-1 at the Cardiff City Stadium, however Scotland missed the opportunity of securing promotion after they lost 1-0 in Israel.
Northern Ireland’s Nations League campaign ended in disappointment following a 1-1 draw with Romania, having already been relegated before the game kicked off, while the Republic of Ireland avoided relegation to League C but their worrying goal drought continues after 0-0 draw against Bulgaria.
The Czech Republic beat neighbours Slovakia 2-0 to pip Scotland for promotion to the top tier of the Nations League while Russia’s hopes ended with a 5-0 humiliation in Serbia as Hungary went up instead after beating Turkey 2-0. Austria’s 1-1 draw with Norway was also enough to see them win promotion to the top tier.
Albania won Group C4 with a 3-2 success over Belarus while Kazakhstan were relegated after losing 2-1 at home to Lithuania.
Armenia topped Group C2 after beating nearest rivals North Macedonia 1-0 while Georgia and Estonia drew 0-0, and Greece against Slovenia also finished goalless. Kosovo were also 1-0 winners against Moldova.
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