Finally, meaningless international games are over and players will be able to enjoy a short but very-needed two-week vacation period. That’s how UEFA wants it, though, so they better not complain about a drop in performance when the new season starts around Europe—it is what happens when you stage an international tournament that goes for nothing right at the end of an already grueling campaign by most of those called up to represent their nations.
Anyway, the Nations League's fourth and final round of June matches is finally over, and we here at Coming Home Newcastle are fully invested in covering the Magpies playing around Europe and the World over. That latter point is a very important one, mind you, as New Zealand went on to face Costa Rica for qualification to next winter’s Qatar World Cup.
Chris Wood (New Zealand)
Match: NZE vs Costa Rica (2022 World Cup Qualification, Inter-Confederation Playoffs )
Last Monday Peru and Australia went the distance and settled their WC Qualifier in the penalties. The game between New Zealand and Costa Rica, though, was the total opposite: just three minutes into it the South American side was up 1-0 thanks to a goal by Joel Campbell—yes, that Joel Campbell—and that’s how things ended 90 minutes later.
New Zealand waved goodbye to their World Cup hopes with Chris Wood playing the full game because that was the most obvious thing and was never in doubt. You just don’t sub out your top-goalscorer ever, do you? No, you don’t. Wood scored in the 40th minute to tie the game... only to be denied by VAR after the play was checked and the officials spotted and signaled a foul prior to the striker’s score. Such is life.
Wood played a nice game, actually, so much so that he got the third-highest grade by SofaScore’s algorithm (7.2) among his teammates. Keylor Navas, the renowned Costa Rican goalie, was sublime though, and stopped all of the Kiwi efforts ending the game with a sky-high 8.2 mark. Wood played the way he always does leading the New Zealanders at the top of their organization, touching the rock 45 times, completing 12-of-17 passes (two of them deemed “key”), and shooting 3-of-4 of his attempts on target. At the end of the day, this was a game between two teams ranked 31st (Costa Rica) and 101st (New Zealand) in the FIFA power rankings, so the unbalance was there from the get-go. Good thing that the Kiwis were good to keep it tight, but ultimately things fell on the logical and expected side. Better luck next time!
Kieran Trippier (England)
Match: ENG vs Hungary (UEFA Nations League, Group A3)
So... yeah. Four gainst, none for. Yikes. England dropped this one as badly as one could imagine, and it wasn’t even close. The Three Lions lost by an astounding 4-0 final scoreline to Hungary on Tuesday with John Stones getting booked twice, Kalvin Phillips completing the most decrepit outing of his career, and Kyle Walker—England’s 1A right wing-back to Trippier’s 1B—having a nightmarish game himself too.
While the presence of Kieran Trippier in this game most probably wouldn’t have changed a thing—England got demolished up and down, left and right—the truth is that one has to think he would have improved the squad a bit? I don’t know, just saying. Sallai opened the score in the 16th minute, put up the second in the 70th, and then left way to Zsolt Nagy (80th and 89th) to finish England for good.
Of course, no one cares about the Nations League until they do. The problem is that when that time arrives, and the stakes are high, and there is an actual couple of semi-finals and a winner-take-all game scheduled, you might already be out of contention. Enter England and its vast underperforming with just two points in four games played this month trailing all of Hungary (7), Germany (6), and Italy (5) and facing a very daunting future in the farcical Nations League tourney. Here’s hoping Gareth Southgate uses better rotations come November.
Fabian Schär (Switzerland)
Match: CHE vs Portugal (UEFA Nations League, Group A2)
Schar, if you remember, missed Switzerland’s game against Spain as part of the third round of matches in Group A2 of the Nations League because he was suspended. Things didn’t go quite well for the Swiss back then, though, with Spain snatching the three points by a 1-0 victory. Even with that negative result and available once more, Schar stayed on the bench for this one and he spent the full 90 minutes sitting right there.
Fabian Schar was part of the first two losses of Switzerland (against the Czech Republic and Portugal) so it actually might have made sense to leave him out of this latest game against Portugal. And it worked wonders for the lads coached by Murat Yakin, who deployed a center-back partnership comprised of Nico Elvedi and Manuel Akanji and got away with the victory thanks to a goal by Haris Seferovic at the very start of the match without even a single minute gone. That header—and a terrific defensive effort and cohesive play throughout the full game—was all the Swiss needed to get their first win in the competition. Switzerland is still trailing Spain (8), Portugal (7), and the Czech Republic (4) in Group A2 with just 3 points in four matches.
Emil Krafth (Sweden)
Match: SWE vs Norway (UEFA Nations League, Group B2)
Things went the opposite way for Emil Krafth when compared to Fabian Schar’s benching. Krafth, who also missed Sweden’s last game with a yellow-card-accumulation suspension instantly returned to the starting XI manning the right side of the defensive line... although he didn’t quite perform as coach Jan Andersson would have liked. Barring two catastrophic outings by both goalkeepers (Robin Olsen for Sweden, Orjan Nyland for Norway), Emil Krafth—along with Jesper Karlstrom and Julian Ryerson—was the worst player (6.4 mark) on the Swedish loss to the Norweigan squad as graded by SofaScore.
Although Krafth logged a rather nice 58 touches in the match, the truth is that he was kind of inactive, sat in Sweden’s half most of the time, and spent most of the game close to the midfield line but without clearing it. A bunch of interceptions and a tackle adorned his defensive efforts (he also won five of the eight ground/aerial duels he went for) but his offense was atrocious losing the ball 12 times and missing the target on the lone cross he attempted. On top of that, the full-back committed a single foul... and it turned into a yellow card limiting the defender’s risk range from the 56th minute on.
Sweden was losing by a score of 3-1 until Viktor Gyokeres scored a second goal in the 95th minute of extra time applying a rather inconsequential makeup to the final result. Erling Haaland opened the game in the 10th minute and scored his second from the penalty spot in the 54th minute. Alexander Sorloth (77th) put the Norwegian's third goal in after Emil Forsberg had made it 2-1 in the 62nd. This leaves Sweden third in their group with just three points in four matches and only above Slovenia, with two. Norway leads the way with 10 points followed by Serbia with 7 in four matches.
Jeff Hendrick (Ireland)
Match: IRL vs Ukraine (UEFA Nations League, Group B12)
Another one sitting on the pine for our pal Jeff, who had to watch from the sidelines until coach Stephen Kenny ultimately sent him in 67th minutes into the game for Jayson Molumby after an atrocious performance by the midfielder. Even with Malinovskyi getting injured and subbed off as early as the 28th minute of playing time, and scoring three minutes later in the 31st, the lads from Ireland couldn’t do more than snatching a single point from this game drawing to a 1-1.
Ukraine went to the half down a goal, but they balanced the scoreboard just two minutes into the second half thanks to a goal by Artem Dovbyk assisted by captain Andriy Yarmolenko. With just under 25 minutes to show his talents, Hendrick kind of did the most he could in that short time. He touched the ball 15 times, less than once per minute, while completing nine of 11 passes and losing the other four possessions he grabbed hold of in the game.
Nothing remarkable from him nor the Irishmen, who are now sitting third with four points in a group commanded by Ukraine (7) followed by Scotland (6) and trailed by Armenia (3).