The Malta Independent 17 August 2022, Wednesday

Portugal, Spain win to set up Nations League Final 4 battle

Associated Press Friday, 10 June 2022, 06:20 Last update: about 3 months ago

Portugal and Spain picked up victories in the Nations League on Thursday to set up a battle between the Iberian neighbors for a spot in the Final Four.

Portugal took sole possession of the lead in Group 2 of the top-tier League A by defeating the Czech Republic 2-0, while Spain earned a first win and moved into second place by edging past struggling Switzerland 1-0 in Geneva.

Portugal, the inaugural champion in 2019, is two points ahead of Spain and three in front of the Czechs after three matches. Only the group winners make it to the Final Four, while the last-placed teams will be relegated.

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“It's still wide open,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said.

It was the second consecutive win for Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal after it had opened with a draw against Spain, last year’s runner-up to France.

The Spaniards ended their winless run with the victory over last-place Switzerland, which has lost all its matches. The Swiss hadn’t been beaten at home in eight years in a run of 23 matches.

“Professional soccer is about results,” Spain coach Luis Enrique said. “We were able to impose our style.”

Portugal opened the scoring with João Cancelo’s low shot from a narrow angle in the 33rd minute, and Gonçalo Guedes added to the lead five minutes later from inside the area after an assist by Bernardo Silva.

Defender Pepe made his 127th appearance, joining Luis Figo for third-best all-time for Portugal. The duo are behind the 145 appearances of João Moutinho and the 188 of Ronaldo.

Spain got on the board in the 13th minute with Pablo Sarabia redirecting a cross by Marcos Llorente for a goal that had to be confirmed by video review to check for offside.

“It was about time we won,” Sarabia said. “These three points are very valuable for us.”

It was the teams’ first meeting since Spain defeated the Swiss on penalties in the quarterfinals of the European Championship last year.

Portugal will close play in the June international window in Switzerland on Sunday, while Spain host the Czech Republic.

In the second-tier League B, Erling Haaland drew a blank in Norway’s 0-0 home draw with Slovenia. Haaland arrived as one of the Nations League’s leading scorers with three goals.

Norway leads Group 4 while Slovenia, which was a man down from the 63rd after Miha Blazic was sent off, is in last place. Serbia won 1-0 at Sweden with a goal by Luka Jovic to jump to second place, three points ahead of the Swedes.

In League C, Kosovo defeated Northern Ireland 3-2, Greece routed Cyprus 3-0, Gibraltar drew 1-1 with Bulgaria and Georgia defeated North Macedonia 3-0.

Georgia's Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Greece's Tasos Bakasetas each scored Thursday to join Haaland and Turkey’s Serdar Dursun with three goals.

Estonia won 2-1 at Malta in League D.

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