By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer
France, the defending Nations League and world champs, became the latest elite European team to succumb to a supposedly lesser foe in a 72-hour span, losing to Denmark 2-0 Sunday in Copenhagen. England, Germany and Spain were also defeated in recent days.
The Denmark–France bout was one of four marquee encounters that kicked off the final match day of round-robin play in League A, and the action certainly didn’t disappoint. With just two days remaining in the group stage, let’s get caught up.
In a World Cup preview, Denmark stuns reeling France again
“Stuns” probably isn’t the right word. It’s not as if Les Bleus had been any good at any point in this Nations League campaign — not that that’s even France’s main concern. With less than two months to go until their title defense begins at Qatar 2022, Didier Deschamps’s squad is in the throes of a miserable 1W-3L-2T run.
Sunday’s defeat to Denmark was France’s second against the Danes, one of their three first round foes at the World Cup, in the 2022-23 Nations League. Le Bleus only win in the competition came last week against now-relegated Austria, which lost 3-1 at home to Croatia on Sunday. That’s not a good sign for France — which, to be fair, is without a number of surefire starters this month because of injury — and their chances of becoming just the third nation (after Italy and Brazil) to repeat as champs at a men’s World Cup.
Deschamps still has arguably the deepest player pool on the planet to choose from. He still has Kylian Mbappe, who almost changed the visitors fortunes by himself on Sunday, only to be denied twice by Danish backstop Kasper Schmeichel.
If France can’t find another gear when the World Cup begins it won’t be for a lack of talent. The more likely culprit will be the sort of off-field drama that already is threatening to derail their campaign weeks out from the main event.
France didn’t win a game in 2002 or 2010 after reaching the final of the previous World Cup on each occasion. Both times, infighting contributed to their demise.
Also drawn alongside Australia and Tunisia for Qatar 2022, their group is manageable no matter what happens next time out against the Danes. You can still bet that Denmark will be licking their chops before that Nov. 26 rematch on the global stage.
Netherlands hold off Belgium
It was always unrealistic to expect Belgium to beat the Dutch 3-0 in Amsterdam, which is what the Red Devils needed to do to leapfrog the Oranje atop the Group 4 standings and qualify for next June’s final four.
The visitors can hold their heads high despite Sunday’s 1-0 loss. Belgium had more than enough chances to score multiple goals in the first half Sunday but just couldn’t find the target. The match was deadlocked all the way until the 73rd minute, when Netherlands defender Virgil van Dijk nodded home the eventual winner.
Along with their pride, the Belgians nearly salvaged a point in the closing seconds, too But substitute Dodi Lukebakio’s spectacular overhead kick — literally the last kick of the match — crashed against the hosts’ crossbar. It was that type of day for the visitors, who can now turn their complete attention to Qatar.
Robert Lewandowski and Poland best Gareth Bale’s Wales
With both Poland and Wales both World Cup-bound and facing potential Nations League relegation depending on the outcome of this match, intensity wasn’t going to be an issue.
So it was Sunday in Cardiff in the two sides final tune-up before Qatar. The matchup was understandably billed as a battle between each team’s respective superstar. But the MLS forward who scored the game-winning strike wasn’t LAFC’s Bale. It was Charlotte’s Karol Swiderski, who converted the only goal the visitors would need off a pass from Lewandowski.
The loss sent Wales – which meets the United Sates Nov. 21 in its first World Cup game in 64 years – down to League B for the next edition of the Nations League.
Luka Modrić, Croatia clinch semifinal place
Croatia wasn’t supposed to reach the final of the last World Cup. Nobody thinks they can get that far in this one, either — not with Modrić, their midfield talisman, having turned 37 earlier this month.
Yet Croatia just keeps winning, and Modrić, who in 2018 won the Ballon d’Or award given to the game’s best player, is currently in some of the most dazzling form of his career. The Real Madrid playmaker scored the opener just five minutes into Sunday’s contest in Vienna.
At the very least, the Croatians now know that they will have the opportunity to play for silverware next summer. Are they also legitimate World Cup contenders? Hey, Modrić & Co. have proven the doubters wrong before.
One of the leading soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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