Portugal, France, Belgium, England win Nations League openers

Sports Desk, Sep 5 (efe-epa).- Portugal began the defense of their UEFA Nations League title Saturday with a 4-1 thrashing of Croatia, while reigning World Cup champions France edged Sweden 1-0.

The results left Portugal and Les Bleus tied on points atop League A Group 3, but the Iberian side have the advantage on goal difference.

Group A2 also got under way on Saturday with victories for the favorites. But while Belgium dispatched Denmark 2-0, England needed a penalty in stoppage time to eke out a 1-0 win against Iceland.

Even with the injured Cristiano Ronaldo watching from the stands at Estadio Do Dragão in Porto, Portugal thoroughly dominated Croatia, who would have lost by an even bigger margin if not for the efforts of goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.

Joao Cancelo opened the scoring for the hosts in the 41st minute.

Diogo Jota made it 2-0 in the 58th and Joao Felix added a third goal 12 minutes later before Bruno Petkovic pulled one back for Croatia in the 91st minute. Andre Silva completed the 4-1 three minutes later.

France had a more challenging afternoon against Sweden at the Friends Arena in Stockholm.

Kylian Mbappe scored four minutes before half-time with what would turn out to be the visitors’ only shot on target. And Les Bleus may come to regret Antoine Griezmann’s failure to convert from the spot after Victor Lindelof fouled Anthony Martial inside the box in stoppage time.

In Copenhagen, Belgium coach Roberto Martinez rested starting goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and left Eden Hazard on the bench.

Lyon defender Jason Denayer gave Belgium the early lead with a goal in the 9th minute. Dries Mertens contributed a helper on the first goal and went on to score with 15 minutes left to make the final 2-0.

England enjoyed 78 percent possession against Iceland in Reykjavik, but still had to count themselves lucky to come away with all 34 points.

The Three Lions had grounds to complain when Harry Kane’s goal was disallowed on a bad offside call, but some of their struggles were self-inflicted, as when Kyle Walker – already on a yellow card – fouled Arnor Ingvi Traustason in the 70th minute and was sent off.

Twenty minutes later, England were awarded a penalty for Sverrir Ingi Ingason’s hand ball and Raheem Sterling converted. But a mental error by Joe Gomez created a chance for Iceland from the spot.

Fortunately for the visitors, Birkir Bjarnason sent the ball over the cross-bar and the 1-0 held up.

England are level on points with Belgium at 3, though they trail the continental side on goal difference. EFE apa/dr

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