Madrid, Oct 14 (efe-epa).- Defending champion Portugal cruised to a 3-0 victory over Sweden in UEFA Nations League round-robin action Wednesday even though superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo was unavailable after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Elsewhere, reigning World Cup champion France edged Croatia on the strength of goals by Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe and Belgium and Denmark notched road victories over Iceland and England, respectively.
The Portuguese, also the champions of Euro 2016, received a long-distance message of support prior to their League A Group 3 match from Ronaldo, who tested positive for Covid-19 on Monday and is now in Turin, Italy, after traveling there by private jet on Wednesday.
In the absence of the Juventus superstar, Bernardo Silva opened the scoring at Jose Alvalade Stadium in Lisbon in the 21st minute with a goal assisted by Liverpool’s Diogo Jota.
Jota then followed up that contribution by scoring a brace, with his first goal coming just before the intermission and the second midway through the second half.
In Wednesday’s other Group A3 game, the French escaped with a hard-fought 2-1 victory at Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb over a combative Croatian side led by 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric.
Didier Deschamps’ men took an early lead with an eighth-minute goal off the left foot of Griezmann, who gathered a poor clearance with space in the area and launched a shot that bounced off the crossbar and into the back of the net.
But the home side improved as the match wore on and notched the equalizer just after the one-hour mark on a shot by Nikola Vlasic that surprised French goalie Hugo Lloris.
France’s quality shone through in the end though.
Mbappe, who had squandered a golden scoring chance in the 15th minute, made up for that miss when he received a volleyed cross from Lucas Digne and slotted the ball past Croatian netminder Dominik Livakovic in the 79th minute.
After Wednesday’s results, France and Portugal are tied atop Group 3 with 10 points apiece with two round-robin games remaining, including a much-anticipated head-to-head battle in Lisbon on Nov. 14. Croatia and Sweden, meanwhile, are out of contention for a berth in next year’s four-team Nations League Finals.
Elsewhere, Poland moved into first place in League A Group 1 with a 3-0 victory in Wroclaw over visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bayern Munich superstar Robert Lewandowski forced the early expulsion of Anel Ahmedhodzic, scored two goals and assisted on a third goal by Karol Linetty.
Poland is now one point ahead of Italy, who played to a 1-1 draw against visiting Netherlands in Bergamo.
In League A Group 2 action Wednesday, England fell from first to third with their 1-0 loss to Denmark and Belgium’s 2-1 road victory over Iceland.
Romelu Lukaku scored a brace to power the Belgians to victory at Iceland’s national stadium in Reykjavik, while England were reduced to 10 men at Wembley Stadium when center back Harry Maguire was sent off in the first half for a second yellow card and then suffered some bad luck when a soft penalty was awarded for a Kyle Walker foul on Thomas Delaney.
Christian Eriksen converted that chance from the 12-yard mark in the 35th minute for what proved to be the game’s only goal.
Belgium now lead Group A2 with nine points, while Denmark (seven points) are slightly ahead of England based on goal differential.
The winners of League A’s four groups will qualify for the four-team Nations League Finals, which will take place in October 2021.
The Nations League, a tournament currently in its second edition, was created with the goal of providing more meaningful competition than what had been provided by international friendlies. EFE-EPA