Italy reach Nations League Finals; England, Germany play to thrilling draw

Sports Desk, Sep 26 (EFE).- Italy booked one of four berths in the 2023 UEFA Nations League Finals with a 2-0 victory Monday over Hungary, while England and Germany combined for six second-half goals in a thrilling 3-3 draw.

Hungary was the surprise of Group 3 of Nations League A, accumulating more points than traditional powerhouses Italy, Germany and England through five matches before finally falling short at Puskas Arena in Budapest.

Italy struck first in the 27th minute when a collision between Hungarian goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi and 18-year-old Italian forward Wilfried Gnonto sent the net minder to the turf and left the ball loose in the area.

Giacomo Raspadori was in perfect position to capitalize, taking possession, dribbling around Gulasci and then slotting the ball into the left side of the goal for the lone goal of the first half.

Hungary came out after the break determined to notch the equalizer but ran into a 1.96-meter (6-foot-5) wall in the form of Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, who kept three balls out of the net in rapid succession.

The hosts then paid dearly for those missed chances when some slick passing by Italy set up a close-range strike by Federico Dimarco, who scored into the roof of the goal off a pass by Bryan Cristante to give Italy a 2-0 lead in the 52nd minute.

Time was running out for Hungary, but Marco Rossi’s men showed no quit and nearly scored shortly afterward on a header by Callum Styles and then dominated the final 20 minutes of play.

In the end, though, they had no answer for Donnarumma’s greatness and had to settle for a surprisingly strong second-place finish in Group 3.

“We were excellent for 70 minutes,” Italy’s head coach, Roberto Mancini, said afterward. “The last 20, I didn’t like too much. We’re happy, it’s important to have reached the Nations League Final Four,” which will be played in June 2023.

In Monday’s other Group 3 contest, England, who had a disastrous 2022-2023 Nations League A campaign and had already been relegated to League B for the 2024-2025 tournament, squared off against Germany in front of 78,949 people at Wembley Stadium in a match without Nations League title implications.

Marc-Andre Ter Stegen denied Raheem Sterling on a golden scoring opportunity for England in the 25th minute, while a shot by Joshua Kimmich late in the scoreless first half that grazed the post was Germany’s best chance before the intermission.

England then appeared headed for their fourth loss in six Nations League games dating back to June 4 when Ilkay Gundogan converted a penalty opportunity in the 52nd minute and then Kai Havertz scored on a shot from outside the area in the 67th minute that beautifully curled inside the top left part of the goal past net minder Nick Pope.

For England head coach Gareth Southgate and his players, another defeat would have made for a very long lead-up to the World Cup, which gets under way on Nov. 20 in Qatar.

Instead, the English side broke out of a three-and-a-half-game scoring drought in style with three goals in a span of 12 minutes.

Defender Luke Shaw got things started by scoring off a cross by Declan Rice in the 72nd minute before Mason Mount’s first-touch shot knotted the contest at 2-2 three minutes later.

English captain Harry Kane then thrilled the crowd when he scored on a penalty kick to give the English side their first lead of the game in the 83rd minute.

There was still time, however, for one final twist in a dramatic second half and it came in the 87th minute when English goalie Nick Pope was unable to corral a long-range shot by Serge Gnabry, allowing Havertz to pounce on the loose ball and tap home from close range.

England had one final opportunity in the 90th minute, but a spectacular save by Ter Stegen denied Bukayo Saka.

“To be a couple down, it’s tough to come back. I think we showed how much desire we have and how much fight we have in the team,” Mount told the media afterward.

The Nations League is a biennial international soccer competition that aims to promote more frequent competitive matches involving European national teams of comparable quality. EFE

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