Belgium, Italy Join France, Spain in Nations League Final Four

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LEUVEN, Belgium (AP) — Romelu Lukaku scored twice as Belgium beat Denmark 4-2 on Wednesday to book a spot in the Nations League’s finals.

The world’s top-ranked team only needed a draw to qualify from the top tier’s Group 2. Belgium finished the group phase with a five-point lead over Denmark and England, joining France, Italy and Spain in next year’s Final Four.

In addition to Lukaku’s clinical finishes, Youri Tielemans delivered yet another excellent performance rewarded by a goal. The Leicester midfielder also created his team’s second goal following Jonas Wind’s equalizer.

Lukaku’s two goals came in the second half before a blunder by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois three minutes from time gifted Denmark a second goal and maintained a bit of suspense until the end. Kevin De Bruyne completed the scoring on the counter in the 88th.

“It’s a relief we made it,” Tielemans said.

Playing in an empty stadium because of coronavirus restrictions, Tielemans broke the deadlock inside three minutes. Lukaku was dispossessed in the box but the Danes failed to clear the ball. Tielemans, who already scored from long range in a 2-0 win against England last week, latched onto it and fired a low shot from outside the area into the bottom right corner.

The Danes pressed high but lacked pace and could not find space. However, a flash of brilliance from Christian Eriksen brought them back in the match in the 18th minute after the Inter Milan player set up Martin Braithwaite with a long pass on the right side. The striker’s shot took a deflection and Wind headed home the rebound.

The goal injected confidence into Denmark and Braithwaite had another chance to score but lost his one-on-one with Courtois. The hosts responded with a header from Lukaku that landed inches wide near the half-hour mark.

The visitors came out after the break with plenty of energy and pinned their rivals back in their own half, but that bout of dominance did not last long.

Belgium reclaimed the lead in the 58th minute after Tielemans played a quick free kick for Kevin De Bruyne, who fed Lukaku on the right side of the box. The powerful forward’s effort took a deflection off Schmeichel and looped into the back of the net. Lukaku scored his 57th international goal with 20 minutes left with a header from Thorgan Hazard’s precise cross.

Courtois’ own goal came after he failed to control Nacer Chadli’s back pass but the mistake did not prove costly as De Bruyne made sure of the win with a shot into the far corner.

ITALY PUNCHES TICKET, WILL HOST FINALS

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Italy advanced to the Nations League Final Four by beating Bosnia-Herzegovina 2-0 on Wednesday.

Andrea Belotti and Domenico Berardi scored in a game that Italy dominated to ensure it finished top of Group 1 and earned the right to host the Nations League finals in October.

Federico Bernardeschi also hit the crossbar late on with one of Italy’s numerous chances.

Italy will be joined in the tournament finals by France, Belgium and Spain.

“It will be nice to measure ourselves up because we’re talking about the strongest teams in Europe so we can’t wait to compare ourselves to them to see our level, how far we’ve come,” assistant coach Alberico Evani said.

Evani filled in for head coach Roberto Mancini, who is self-isolating after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Italy finished a point ahead of the Netherlands, which scored two late goals to win 2-1 in Poland.

Bosnia was already mathematically relegated to League B.

Italy was beset with problems coming into the match. Standout forward Ciro Immobile was also still out with the coronavirus and the Azzurri were without more than 20 other players due to club quarantines and injuries.

Italy had already beaten Estonia and Poland with understrength teams over the past week.

“You can only tell them thanks because when they give so much for this shirt, with all the difficulties they’ve had,” Evani said. “Because this week we had a lot and to get three wins with three convincing performances ... I can only say thanks to them.”

Italy dominated from the start and opened the scoring in the 22nd minute. Manuel Locatelli sent Lorenzo Insigne down the left flank and he crossed for Belotti, whose volley looped over Bosnia goalkeeper Kenan Pirić.

Bosnia almost leveled shortly before halftime but Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma pulled off a great save at point-blank range to deny Smail Prevljak.

Moments later Italy could have doubled its lead but Lorenzo Insigne’s curled finish skimmed the outside of the far post.

Italy was creating chances but lacked the finishing touch. On the hour mark it was Francesco Acerbi’s turn to miss the target as his effort flashed across goal and just wide of the right upright.

The Azzurri finally doubled their lead in the 68th as Locatelli sent a ball over the top for Berardi to volley into the bottom right corner.