Nations League: Portugal beats Czechs, Spain loses to Swiss
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Diogo Dalot helped Portugal take control of its Nations League group by scoring his first two international goals in a 4-0 rout at the Czech Republic on Saturday.
Spain blew its lead of Group A2 after flopping in a 2-1 loss to Switzerland in front of its disappointed fans in Zaragoza.
Portugal moved two points ahead of Spain before the neighbors meet in Braga on Tuesday in a winner-take-all clash to see which advances to the tournament’s final four next June.
While his Portugal rolled in Prague, Cristiano Ronaldo had a rough night, first enduring a nasty blow to his face that made his nose bleed and required a small bandage. International soccer’s all-time leading scorer with 117 goals also committed a penalty that, fortunately for him, the Czechs failed to convert with the score 2-0.
Dalot put Portugal ahead in the 33rd minute when the right back scored from a pass by Rafael Leão.
Bruno Fernandes doubled the lead in first-half injury time moments before Ronaldo was guilty of the handball inside his own area. But Patrik Schick wasted the penalty kick by sending it onto the crossbar.
Dalot put the result beyond all doubt in the 52nd with a curling shot into the corner.
Ronaldo finished with an assist for Diogo Jota to take a fourth goal in the 82nd.
Luis Enrique, who last year guided Spain to the semifinals of the European Championship and the final of the Nations League, is known for making unpopular decisions and sticking to them.
And, once again, he surprised by starting Marco Asensio, who has been relegated to a substitute role at club Real Madrid, as a false nine while leaving pure strikers Álvaro Morata and newcomer Borja Iglesias on the bench.
Spain failed to disturb the Swiss in attack and its defense conceded two goals on corner kicks featuring Swiss defender Manuel Akanji.
Akanji struck with a great header in the 21st when he outjumped his marker and drove the ball off the turf and into the top corner of the net.
Asensio finally managed to pick apart Switzerland’s defense in the 55th when he dribbled past four players before laying off for Jordi Alba to rifle in the equalizer.
But Switzerland hit right back three minutes later when Akanji was left unchecked at the near post to use one touch to redirect a corner kick into the six-yard box where Breel Embolo nudged it over the line.
“They said that it was easy to beat Switzerland and we have seen that is not true in the least,” Luis Enrique said. “They stopped us from playing our game, and you have to add to that our very sloppy first half. We improved in the second half, showed more precision, but just when we scored, we conceded another goal from a corner. Now we have to go to Portugal and win.”
Iglesias and 20-year-old Nico Williams debuted for Spain as substitutes. Nico’s older brother and clubmate Iñaki Williams debuted for Ghana on Friday after he changed allegiance from Spain.
Switzerland hosts the Czech Republic in St. Gallen on Tuesday to decide which avoids relegation. Switzerland has two more points than the Czechs in last place.
Portugal, Spain and Switzerland will all play in the World Cup in November.
Israel was promoted from Group B2 after it beat Albania 2-1 thanks to a goal by Tai Baribo in injury time.
It is all level between Serbia and Norway atop Group B4 ahead of their game in Olso to see which joins League A.
Erling Haaland scored for Norway but Slovenia fought back for a 2-1 home win, while Serbia’s Aleksandar Mitrovic netted a hat trick to lead a 4-1 victory over Sweden in Belgrade.
Scotland remained in charge of Group B1 after edging Ireland 2-1 in Glasgow. Ukraine is two points behind after routing Armenia 5-0 before it plays the Scots in Krakow.
Greece earned promotion from Group C2 despite losing to Cyprus 1-0 thanks to Northern Ireland’s 2-1 comeback win over Kosovo.
Senegal prepared for the World Cup by beating Bolivia 2-0 in a friendly in Orleans, France.
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