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UEFA Nations League: England reach finals; Belgium capitulate

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in the UEFA Nations League…

[ MORE: USMNT injuries ahead of Italy friendly | Injuries for Italy, too ]

England 2-1 Croatia

The best rivalries in sports are the ones born out of contentious, high-stakes meetings on the field of play and the inevitable spill-over of words thereafter. Along those very lines, something of a rivalry is brewing between England and Croatia, and it’s all happened within a six-month period in 2018.

There was, of course, the two nations’ 2018 World Cup semifinal meeting in July, followed by the first of two rematches in the Nations League last month, and finally Sunday’s League A Group 4 finale. In between all of those on-field meetings, though, came the stoking of fires in the form of a verbal jab here and there.

Sunday’s clash at Wembley Stadium, which saw the Croats go ahead not long before the hour mark and appear destined for victory and the top spot in the group, only to watch their lead slip away in a late collapse, will only have added to the budding disdain between the two squads.

Andrej Kramaric put the visitors ahead int he 57th minute, but Jesse Lingard (78th) and Harry Kane (85th) brought the Three Lions back for a dramatic victory and pushed Gareth Southgate‘s to a first-place finish in the group. As such, England (7 points) joined Portugal in the final-four knockout stage.

Nearly as sweet for England, the result sends Croatia (4 points) bottom of the group, and they’ll be relegated to League B next time around.

Switzerland 5-2 Belgium

From 2-0 up, to an embarrassing 5-2 defeat, Sunday was certainly a day to forget — and an opportunity missed — for Belgium. A draw over victory against Switzerland would have seen the Red Devils finish top of League A Group 2, and they were in poll position for precisely that result after just 17 minutes, when they led 2-0 courtesy of Thorgan Hazard‘s early brace.

From that point forward, not a single thing went right for Roberto Martinez’s side as the home side score five unanswered goals from that point forward. It was 2-2 fewer than 15 minutes later — Ricardo Rodriguez and Haris Seferovic (penalty kick made it so — and Seferovic made it 3-2 just before halftime. There would be no galvanizing of the troops after the intermission, as Nico Elvedi scored his first international goal to make it 4-2 in the 62nd minute. Seferovic completed his hat trick, and the 5-2 scoreline, in the 84th.

In the end, it’s the Swiss who’ll join England and Portugal in the League A finals, by virtue of the second tiebreaker — goal differential in head-to-head matchups.

Elsewhere in UEFA Nations League

League B Group 3

Northern Ireland 1-2 Austria

League C Group 2

Hungary 2-0 Finland
Greece 0-1 Estonia

League D Group 2

San Marino 0-2 Belarus
Moldova 1-1 Luxembourg

Monday’s UEFA Nations League schedule

League A Group 1

Germany vs. Netherlands — 2:45 p.m. ET

League B Group 1

Czech Republic vs. Slovakia — 2:45 p.m. ET

League B Group 4

Denmark vs. Ireland — 2:45 p.m. ET

League C Group 3

Cyprus vs. Norway — 2:45 p.m. ET
Bulgaria vs. Slovakia — 2:45 p.m. ET

League D Group 1

Georgia vs. Kazakhstan — 12 p.m. ET
Andorra vs. Latvia — 12 p.m. ET

League D Group 4

Macedonia vs. Gibraltar — 2:45 p.m. ET
Liechtenstein vs. Armenia — 2:45 p.m. ET

McKennie, De La Torre out for USMNT match against Italy

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U.S. Men’s National Team fans will have to wait another few months for a chance to see AMP – Adams, McKennie and Pulisic – playing together on the field in the red, white and blue.

U.S. Soccer announced Sunday that Weston McKennie and Luca De La Torre had both been released from the USMNT squad. McKennie has a left hamstring injury and has returned to Schalke to recover, while de la Torre stayed in London after the USMNT match against England to resume training with his club side Fulham and their new coach Claudio Ranieri. The USMNT squad stands at 24 ahead of Tuesday’s match against Italy in Genk, Belgium.

[READ: England comes back to beat Croatia, top UEFA Nations League group]

Losing McKennie is a big blow to a young USMNT side that is looking to gain experience against big European nations, and if Thursday’s 3-0 defeat to England showed anything, it’s that even after 12 months, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of chemistry within the squad between all the players. Tyler Adams, McKennie and Christian Pulisic are all sure to play big roles going forward as the U.S. builds towards the 2022 World Cup, and giving the trio more time on the field together would be crucial.

For de la Torre, perhaps he can impress his new manager this week and earn some much-needed playing time. The 20-year-old former U.S. youth international star has yet to make his Premier League bow this season, though he’s featured three times in the League Cup.

Lingard: Making it to the UEFA Nations League finals is ‘what we want’

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For the second time in five months, the England National Team is in the final four of an international competition.

England enacted some measure of revenge against Croatia on Sunday, completing an impressive 2-1 comeback victory over the World Cup finalists which beat England in the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Substitute Jesse Lingard scored the game-tying goal before Harry Kane finished the winner in the 85th minute. It’s the latest success for an England National Team program that saw its teams win the FIFA Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups in 2017.

“It’s good, this is what we want, to play against the best teams in the world, to compete against the best and show our ability,” Lingard said following the game. “For us its another test, another semifinal. We’ve learned from Russia and we know what the job at hand is.”

It was a rollercoaster of emotions as England overcame a second half deficit to advance to the finals of the UEFA Nations League. For the first 56 minutes of the match, a scoreless draw was enough for England to stave off relegation while Spain would have advanced to the finals. However, Andrej Kramaric‘s looping goal in the 57th minute took the air out of Wembley Stadium, with England then needing two goals to survive relegation themselves.

Lingard, who came on 73rd minute, made an instant difference, along with winger Jadon Sancho, and Lingard came up with the game-tying goal four minutes after coming on.

“(Southgate) was just saying, as a sub you’ve gotta change the game,” Lingard said, “and the position I play in, I’ve got to get in the box as much as possible, get forward, make forward runs and try and change the game.”

Lingard was in the area in the 85th minute as Ben Chilwell delivered a terrific left-footed free kick into the box, one that was finished by Kane, leading to wild celebrations, ones that Lingard avoided earlier due to the situation of England needing two goals. Lingard, who some have nicknamed “Worldie” due to his propensity to score terrific goals, finished with a tap-in, but he’ll take it every day of the week.

“We were speaking about it the other day, me and Marcus (Rashford), (and he said) ‘you never score tap ins’, “Lingard said, “but I’ll take them all day long.”

Report: Ranieri blew Fulham away in job interview

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Claudio Ranieri told reporters in his opening press conference that he was “mad but not stupid” to take the Fulham job. Now we know he wanted it from the start.

According to a report by the Daily Mail, Claudio Ranieri didn’t need any convincing to take over the managerial position for the team at the bottom of the Premier League table – in fact it was quite the opposite.

The report states that Ranieri was by far the most prepared for his Fulham job interview, and that he blew away those across the table with a detailed report of the Fulham squad and his plan to turn things around. “Some of the others who were interviewed were unprepared but Ranieri was very impressive,” the report quoted a club source as saying.

[ MORE: Fulham made difficult, but right decision ]

“When I went to Parma, all my friends said you are mad to go there,” Ranieri said in his opening press conference. “When I was at Cagliari, they were bottom and everyone said we were out – I love this kind of battle. It’s my character.”

Fulham has the leakiest defense in all the European top five leagues, having conceded 31 goals through the opening 12 matches. The Whites spent a record amount of money this offseason for a newly-promoted side after Championship playoff glory, but recently fired manager Slavisa Jokanovic failed to integrate the new signings with those who had just come off success in the lower league.

Ranieri also made a promise to the Fulham squad based off one he became famous for at Leicester City – he vowed to buy the players fast food on him for clean sheets. “Pizza is not enough now,” Ranieri said, referencing a promise he became famous for while at the Foxes. “I have to promise something more. It’s better everybody to McDonald’s. I look always forward. I’m an ambitious man. I believe I have good players. Now I have to choose players who show me fighting spirit. With quality, fighting spirit and unity, the players help each other.”

Ranieri’s return to the Premier League highlighted with press conference gems

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Claudio Ranieri, how you’ve been missed.

The veteran Italian manager is back in the Premier League, having been installed this week by Fulham in place of the sacked Slavisa Jokanovic, and just like his time with Leicester City and Chelsea before, Ranieri still shows a quick turn of phrase. With one win in 12, five points, 31 goals allowed and a minus 20 goal differential, Fulham sits dead last in the Premier League standings, four points from rising out of the drop zone. The club also has a tough stretch ahead, with matches against Chelsea, Leicester City and Manchester United to come in the next 30 days.

[READ: 3 things we learned: USMNT vs. England]

While at Leicester City, where he led the club to the unexpected 2015-2016 Premier League title, Ranieri joked that if the team earned a clean sheet, he’d order them pizza. They came through on their half of the promise, and so did he. When asked if he’d be bringing that tradition back, Ranieri again joked that, perhaps he’ll have to come up with a better meal.

“What will I offer to the players in the event of games (with a clean sheet)? Ranieri said. “The pizza is not enough, maybe it’s better to go to McDonald’s.”

Clean sheets will be of utmost importance to Fulham, which has only recorded one in an official (non-friendly) match this season, a 2-0 win over Exeter City in the League Cup in August.

In response to shoring up his team’s leaky defense, Ranieri said thus: “Play football, play well, but when you lose the ball I want to see you with an anchor, like pirates.”

It looks like it will be a fun ride for Fulham. We’ll see if Ranieri can turn things around, or if Fulham are doomed to head straight back down to the Championship.