Cristiano’s Portugal look like team to beat in Nations League

Sports Desk, Sep 8 (efe-epa).- Reigning UEFA Nations League champions Portugal beat Sweden 2-0 Tuesday on a brace by Cristiano Ronaldo to go top of League A Group 3 in the 2020-2021 edition of the competition, while Belgium pounded Iceland 5-1 to take the lead in A2.

With the double, Ronaldo, 35, boosted his international goal total to 101, just eight fewer than the all-time leader, Ali Daei of Iran.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s closest competitor among active players, Lionel Messi, has 70 goals for Argentina.

Sweden goalkeeper Robin Olsen stopped Ronaldo twice in the opening 45 minutes at Friends Arena in Stockholm, but was unable to deny the Portugal captain on a free kick in first-half stoppage time.

Besides resulting in a goal, the sequence that preceded the free kick also saw the Swedish side reduced to 10 men as Gustav Svensson was sent off after picking up a second yellow card.

Ronaldo added an insurance goal in the 72nd, elegantly chipping the ball over Olsen.

In Brussels, heavily favored Belgium conceded in the 10th minute to Iceland’s Holmbert Fridjonsson, but came roaring back with goals by Axel Witsel – in the 13th – and Michy Batshuayi, four minutes later.

Dries Mertens made it 3-1 five minutes after the restart and Batshuayi got his second of the night in the 69th minute, 10 minutes before Jeremy Doku got a fifth goal for Belgium, who extended their winning streak in Europe to 12 matches.

France hosted Croatia, the team Les Bleus beat in the 2018 World Cup final, at Stade de France in Paris in Tuesday’s other A3 match.

The home side were missing Kylian Mbappe, who recently tested positive for Covid-19, while Croatia played without regular starters Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.

The visitors took the lead in the 16th minute on a goal by Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren, only to trail 2-1 at half-time.

Antoine Griezmann equalized for France in the 43rd minute and the go ahead goal came in first-half stoppage time, when Croatia keeper Dominik Livakovic put the ball in his own net after a strike by Anthony Martial bounced off the post.

But the Balkan side battled on and pulled even in the 55th minute thanks to a great individual effort by Josip Brekalo.

Dayot Upamecano reclaimed the lead for Les Bleus in the 65th minute with an assist from Griezmann. Olivier Giroud converted a penalty in the 77th to put France ahead to stay 4-2.

Portugal and France are each on 6 points after two games, but Ronaldo’s team has an advantage on goal difference, while neither Sweden nor Croatia has a point.

France will welcome Portugal to Saint-Denis on Oct. 11.

Belgium’s main rival in A2, England, had to settle for a scoreless draw with Denmark and trail the Red Devils by 2 points.

Captain Harry Kane had the best chance for the Three Lions and Christian Eriksen came the closest for the Danes. EFE id/dr

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