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England and Italy draw in Nations League

PARIS (AFP) – England are bottom of their UEFA Nations League group without a win after drawing 0-0 with Italy in a repeat of the Euro 2020 final on Saturday, while Germany settled for a point in a 1-1 stalemate in Hungary.

The meeting in Wolverhampton between Gareth Southgate’s side and the European champions was played before just 3,000 people, largely school-children, as a punishment for the incidents that marred the Euro 2020 final between the same nations at Wembley last year.

UEFA rules say a match ordered to be played behind closed doors can still be attended by children accompanied by an adult, as happened last weekend when Hungary beat England in Budapest.

England followed that reverse by drawing 1-1 in Germany and another draw at Molineux leaves them bottom of League A, Group 3 with just two points from three outings before they host Hungary at the same venue on Tuesday in their final game of a long campaign.

Mason Mount hit the bar early on for England, while Aaron Ramsdale produced a fine save to deny Sandro Tonali for an Italy side featuring just two starters who also lined up in the European Championship final.

Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale of England makes a save. PHOTO: AP
England’s head coach Gareth Southgate. PHOTO: AFP

“We had two or three really good chances we need to score, but just lacked that sharpness in front of goal,” said Southgate.

Roberto Mancini’s Italy are rebuilding after failing to qualify for the World Cup and are top of the group after Hungary and Germany cancelled each other out in Budapest.

Zsolt Nagy gave Hungary an early lead, smashing in after Manuel Neuer had palmed out a Rolland Salai header.

However, Germany needed just three minutes to draw level as Borussia Moenchengladbach’s Jonas Hofmann latched onto a long ball forward and rounded the goalkeeper before slotting in. “I said beforehand that this was the hardest game you could have after England,” Germany coach Hansi Flick told RTL after his side’s third consecutive 1-1 draw. “But we are in a development process. We have to see that we learn the lessons from this game.”

The Netherlands are top of League A, Group 4 after coming from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Poland in Rotterdam, but they could have claimed a third win in as many games had Memphis Depay not squandered a late penalty.

English-born full-back Matty Cash gave Poland an 18th-minute lead with a fine low strike, and the visitors doubled their advantage five minutes after half-time as Przemyslaw Frankowski squared for Piotr Zielinski to finish.

Yet the home side pulled one back almost immediately when Daley Blind’s cross from the left was swept in by Davy Klaassen, and they were level by the 54th minute as Denzel Dumfries made it 2-2. They could have won it in stoppage time when Cash was penalised in the box, but Barcelona forward Depay saw his spot-kick come back off the post.

Meanwhile Brennan Johnson – a star for Nottingham Forest as they won promotion to the Premier League this season – came off the bench to score a late leveller as Wales drew 1-1 with Belgium in Cardiff. Youri Tielemans gave Belgium the lead early in the second half in Cardiff, but Wales earned their first point of the Nations League campaign.

Their attention had previously been on their decisive World Cup qualifying play-off against Ukraine, which they won 1-0 last weekend to qualify for the global showpiece for the first time since 1958.

In League B, the Republic of Ireland got their first win in Group 1 in emphatic fashion, beating hapless Scotland 3-0 in Dublin.

Alan Browne and Troy Parrott netted in the first half for Ireland before Michael Obafemi smashed in an emphatic third early in the second half.

In the same group Ukraine got their second win in as many games since losing to Wales, as they beat Armenia 3-0 in a match played in the Polish city of Lodz.

England manager Gareth Southgate blamed a run of three games without a win to start their Nations League campaign on a lack of sharpness in front of goal.

England’s only goal in the last three games came from Harry Kane’s late penalty to salvage a 1-1 draw away to Germany on Tuesday. “We had two or three really good chances we need to score, but just lacked that sharpness in front of goal,” said Southgate.

“You can see when you are pushing like we were in the second half, you don’t have any crowd to help you or put the opposition under any pressure.”

Since beating the Three Lions on penalties to become champions of Europe, things have gone wrong for Italy as they missed out on a second consecutive World Cup.

However, Roberto Mancini’s men have bounced back to top Group A3 with five points from three games. England remain bottom with two points.

Mancini named an experimental line-up with only two survivors from the 11 that started the Euro final. “We know we have to improve, it’s part of the path for growing,” said Mancini.

Southgate also took the opportunity to rotate the side with Kane left on the bench among six changes.

When the sides last met, England struck within the first two minutes and nearly got off to a flying start again when Mason Mount crashed a shot off the bar from Raheem Sterling’s perfectly-weighted pass.

The inexperienced Italians soon found their feet and had the better of the chances before the break.

Aaron Ramsdale spread himself to produce a stunning save on just his second England start to deny Sandro Tonali a first international goal. The Arsenal goalkeeper then tipped over Manuel Locatelli’s deflected effort with the last action of the first half.

England upped the tempo after the break and should have claimed three points to kick-start their Nations League campaign when Sterling somehow spooned over Reece James’ cross from point-blank range.