Mbappe, Sterling rediscover scoring touch in Nations League

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LONDON: Kylian Mbappe and Raheem Sterling have started their new seasons a lot better than they finished their last.
With an individual goal that combined fortune and inspired impudence, world champion Mbappe earned France a 1-0 win at Sweden in the Nations League.
Earlier, Sterling converted a penalty in second-half stoppage time to give England a 1-0 victory at Iceland in their first meeting since the tiny Nordic nation’s shock win at the European Championship four years ago.
Both forwards were making their first appearances after a shortened off-season break that was further truncated owing to their involvement in the closing stages of the Champions League last month.
While Sterling missed an open goal as Manchester City went out in surprise fashion to Olympique Lyonnais in the quarter-finals in Lisbon, Mbappe was among the Paris St Germain players to spurn chances in the final as they lost to Bayern Munich.
They rediscovered their scoring touch with their countries in the round of games in the Nations League, which marks the return of international football after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. All games are being played without fans, with players taking mandatory pregame tests for Covid-19.
In other games in the top-tier League A, holders Portugal — still the reigning continental champion after the 12-month delay of this year’s European Championship — beat Croatia 4-1 thanks to goals by Joao Cancelo, Diogo Jota, Joao Felix and Andre Silva. Portugal were missing Cristiano Ronaldo, who was out because of a toe infection.
Top-ranked Belgium secured a 2-0 win at Denmark after Jason Denayer’s first international goal was followed by a second from Dries Mertens.
The matches largely had the feel of preseason friendlies, with many of Europe’s top players a long way short of full match sharpness because some leading domestic leagues are yet to begin their 2020-21 campaigns.
Mbappe scored with France’s only shot on goal in Solna.
When Mbappe received the ball out on the left wing in the 41st minute, he had lots of yellow Swedish jerseys between him and the goal.
The 21-year-old PSG star bore down on Mikael Lustig and Kristoffer Olsson, and got a bit of luck as the ball deflected off the outstretched foot of Olsson and back into Mbappe’s path.
Mbappe then spotted Sweden goalkeeper Robin Olsen had crept slightly away from his near post. From an acute angle, he found the gap between Olsen and the post with a left-footed shot for his 14th international goal.
It proved to be a comfortable win for the world champions at the Friends Arena in Stockholm — and it would have been more convincing had Antoine Griezmann not blazed a penalty over the crossbar late on after substitute Anthony Martial was fouled.
“It was a committed match, not a great match,” said France manager Didier Deschamps. “It was a good back-to-school game, considering the fitness levels.”
In Reykjavik, Sterling’s last minute penalty salvaged England from another embarrassing result against Iceland.
Gareth Southgate’s men also survived going down to 10 men and seeing Birkir Bjarnason miss a late spot-kick for the hosts.
Four years on from one of English football’s most embarrassing nights in losing 2-1 to Iceland at Euro 2016, England were far from the free-scoring force that romped through Euro 2020 qualifying in their first match for 10 months.
Harry Kane had an early goal wrongly ruled out for offside before Kyle Walker was sent-off for two bookable offences 20 minutes from time.
All of Iceland’s good defensive work was undone in the 89th minute when Sverrir Ingason was also harshly dismissed for a second booking when he blocked Sterling’s shot with his arm.
With Kane having been replaced by Mason Greenwood, Sterling took responsibility from spot, but the drama did not end there.
Straight from kick-off, Joe Gomez was adjudged to have bundled over Holmbert Fridjonsson inside the area, but Bjarnason blazed the resulting penalty over.
“The sending off is a key moment because it is very difficult to win games of football when you go down to 10 men. It was an unnecessary red card,” said Southgate of Walker’s dismissal.
“We leave here with the win but a bit flat because in the end it feels like we got away with it.”Cristiano Ronaldo was missing with an infected toe — caused by a bee sting according to Italian media — but Portugal were still too good for a disappointing Croatia in Porto and also hit the woodwork three times.
“It has been a long time since we all got together and some players came straight from their vacation, but the team responded well,” said Felix.
Croatia were without Luca Modric and Ivan Rakitic who boast a total of 233 caps between them.
Bruno Petkovic grabbed a stoppage-time consolation for the visitors.
“This wasn’t the Croatia I know. We let them do whatever they wanted. There was no aggression in our game — it should have been 4-0 in the first half,” said Croatia defender Dejan Lovren.
Belgium handed the Danes a first home loss in four years and an opening defeat for new coach Kasper Hjulmand in Copenhagen.
Belgium, without the retired Vincent Kompany and Kevin de Bruyne, who was attending the birth of his third child, were in front after just nine minutes.
Lyon defender Denayer tucked away his first international goal from Mertens’ free-kick.
Mertens added the second in the 77th minute when the Napoli striker pounced on a loose ball after Kasper Schmeichel had blocked a Youri Tielmans effort with his legs.

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