By Alasdair Howorth, CNN
Italy joined The Netherlands and Croatia in the Nations League final four with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Hungary, while England and Germany shared the spoils at Wembley in a 3-3 draw that will leave both sides frustrated with their performances ahead of the World Cup.
Italy needed to win in Hungary to win Group A3 on Friday, and the Azurri did not disappoint.
Italy forward Wilfried Gnonto pounced onto a weak back pass in the 27th minute and was tackled by Hungary keeper Péter Gulácsi, but Gulácsi was unable to stop Giacomo Raspadori who took advantage of the loose ball to slot it home.
Frederico Dimarco tapped home at the far post in the 52nd minute to seal the game in front of a raucous Puskás Aréna Park and qualify the Italians for their second successive Nations League final four. Despite the victory, it is scant consolation following Italy’s shock exit in World Cup qualifying at the hands of North Macedonia.
But Roberto Mancini will be pleased with his new look Italian team, which only featured four starters from the 2020 European Championship final won last year.
“We were excellent for 70 minutes. The last 20, I didn’t like too much,” Mancini said after the game according to Reuters.
“It’s important to have reached the Nations League final four for the second time, but the previous results unfortunately remain.
“Let’s say that we were good at restarting and setting up a group that has values on which you can work.”
The loss brought a memorable campaign for Hungary to an end, who at the outset of the group looked like the whipping boys but outclassed both Germany and England before only narrowly missing out on a final four spot.
England relegated after thrilling Germany match
Meanwhile, in the other game in Group A3, England and Germany faced off in a match that while inconsequential in the Nations League, was vital as the final World Cup warm-up for both sides.
Once again, it was the much-maligned Harry Maguire who was the focus of attention. Following a drab first half, the Manchester United center-back gave away the ball before bringing down Jamal Musiala for a penalty. Ilkay Gündogan converted the spot-kick to give the visitors the lead in the 52nd minute.
Fifteen minutes later, the visitors doubled their lead, but this goal was all about Germany’s class. Timo Werner found space on the edge of the box before laying off a pass to his former Chelsea teammate Kai Havertz, who steered a beautiful curling effort in off the post.
But the Three Lions showed a steel and resilience which had been missing from Gareth’s Southgate’s side of late to mount a comeback. A sharp finish from Luke Shaw at the back post in the 71st minute, followed by a lovely curled finish from Mason Mount just four minutes later brought the game level within just eight minutes of Havertz’s strike.
In the 82nd, things went from bad to worse for the Germans when Nico Schlotterbeck fouled Jude Bellingham inside the box and Harry Kane dispatched the resultant penalty.
But the sensational drama was yet to end. In the 87th minute, Serge Gnabry cut inside and drove a dipping effort at Nick Pope who made a meal out of the straightforward save and spilled the ball into the path of Havertz who tucked home his second of the night.
The result will leave Gareth Southgate with plenty to think about ahead of the World Cup, but ultimately brings an end to a miserable Nations League campaign in which England failed to win a single match, the side’s longest run without a win since 1993.
After the match, Southgate told Channel 4, “To an extent we are always going to face pressure so we need to be exposed to pressure.
“We played a friendly against Ivory Coast in March and they went to 10 men and it became a non-event and we learned nothing.
“This week, we’ve learned a huge amount. They’ve had to step forward and come together — it will benefit us in the long run.”
Germany boss Hansi Flick will similarly be contemplating what has gone wrong in the group as the Germans only mustered one victory in the group.
Neither coach will have the time they want to turn things around as their next set of fixtures will be their opening matches at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, which kicks off November 20.
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