The last few international matches before the World Cup were played this week, and there were some big results as we approach the end of the season in the Americas. We will be going over a selection of those in this edition of This Week In Football.
🏆 Nations League A: Portugal 0-1 Spain
There was a lot at stake in Group 2 of League A on the final day of the regular league season of the 2022/23 Nations League. Switzerland had to avoid defeat against Czechia to stay up, while Spain and Portugal went head to head for a spot in the final four next year. Luis Enrique’s side were defeated by the Swiss on the weekend, so the onus was on them to go for the win here.
They did just that, aided by Portugal’s defensive-minded approach. For all their possession, though, the visitors suffered from the all-too-familiar problem of failing to create chances in the final third. They were only able to attempt one shot from inside the box in the first hour of the match, and that was a blocked effort right from the edge.
Enrique was then forced to turn to his young substitutes to change the match, and they did not let him down. Nico Williams proved to be the difference-maker when he set up a tap-in for Álvaro Morata with just three minutes of normal time left, so that goal proved enough for Spain to book a berth in next year’s play-offs.
🇦🇷 Argentina: Patronato de Paraná 2-2 River Plate (4-3 on penalties)
Since 2014, River Plate have lifted at least one trophy every year, bar 2020, the year of the pandemic. That record looks set to end this year, especially after their elimination from the Copa Argentina in the quarter-finals.
River Plate were visiting Patronato de Paraná and got off to a perfect start by scoring in the 11th minute, but went in level at the break after conceding an equaliser around the half-hour mark. They went behind just seconds into the second period but were pretty quick to level the scores again.
With no extra time in the Copa Argentina this season, the match went to penalties, where both sides failed to convert their second kicks. Patronato were faultless thereafter, so Matías Suárez’s miss in River’s final kick proved to be the decisive moment in the shoot-out.
Earlier this season, Marcelo Gallardo’s side were eliminated from the Copa de la Liga Profesional in the quarter-finals at the hands of eventual finalists Tigre. Their Libertadores campaign also ended in the first round of the knockout stage, against Vélez Sarsfield.
We have been documenting the close title race in the Argentine league, but River are unlikely to be involved as they are nine points and six places behind the leaders.
🏆 Nations League B: Norway 0-2 Serbia
They were also fighting over the top spot in Group 4 of League B, although the difference was of course that the reward, in this case, was promotion and not qualification for a subsequent stage.
Norway and Serbia were level on 10 points going into this fixture, but the home side had the advantage thanks to their 1-0 win in Belgrade on the opening matchday of the season.
Therefore, they only needed a draw in this match to secure promotion, but that was not to be. In a close affair, Serbia’s star strikers Dušan Vlahović and Aleksandar Mitrović scored on either side of the half-time break to secure the all-important three points.
Serbia will be up with the big boys in League A next season, while Norway will remain in League B. More importantly, this result also had a substantial impact on the two sides’ seeding for the Euro 2024 qualifying draw. Serbia’s win takes them to pot 2, while Norway will be in pot 3 so the two sides could theoretically draw each other.
🇧🇷 Brazil: Fortaleza 3-2 Flamengo
There was a full round of midweek league fixtures in Brazil, so we have a few choices to make. Fortaleza’s dramatic win over Flamengo was the match with the most goals scored, and it also could have some big implications on both sides’ seasons.
The home side took the lead early on, but they were trailing at half-time after a brace from Gabriel Barbosa. They equalised soon after the start of the second half before going on to net a winner in the fourth minute of stoppage time. That meant Fortaleza did the double over Flamengo in the league this season, having also beaten them back in June thanks to a stoppage-time winner.
That was Fortaleza’s first win of the league season after a disastrous start had left them winless and at the bottom of the table after eight matches, but they have recovered well since. They are a couple of places above the drop zone and just three points away from the Copa Sudamericana spots.
Flamengo did not start the season as well as they would have liked, but they turned a corner after the arrival of Dorival Júnior. The 60-year-old manager has taken them to the final of the Copa Libertadores, and his side also once looked most likely to challenge Palmeiras for the title.
They have dropped off a bit in the league, though, and this defeat has pushed them out of the top four, which promises direct qualification to next season’s Copa Libertadores group stage.
🇺🇸 MLS: Seattle Sounders 1-1 FC Cincinnati
As MLS approaches the final matchday of the regular season, some rescheduled matches were being held during the international break. This week, Seattle Sounders hosted FC Cincinnati at Lumen Field.
The hosts needed a win to stay within touching distance of the play-off line in the Western Conference, but the visitors’ place in the top seven of the Eastern Conference was far from settled, so they were looking for maximum points.
Cincinnati struck first through star Brazilian striker Brenner da Silva, who took his tally up to 20 goal involvements for the season. The Sounders fought back, and they were eventually rewarded just before the hour-mark as Fredy Montero equalised.
However, things turned sour for them about 10 minutes later because Kelyn Rowe was sent off for a last-man foul. Luckily for them, Cincinnati squandered some big chances late on, and the match ended in a draw.
While that keeps the Sounders’ play-off hopes alive, the likelihood of them overturning a five-point deficit in two matchdays is very low. Cincinnati, on the other hand, are four points clear of the play-off line in the East, so they should start making plans for the post-season.
👀 What To Watch Next:
Club football returns this weekend, so here are some big matches you should be looking forward to:
🇩🇪 Germany: Bayern Munich vs Bayer Leverkusen (Friday, 19:30 GMT)
The defending Bundesliga champions are experiencing their worst run of league form in about two decades, and they will take on a struggling Bayer Leverkusen. The latter are looking to recover after their worst-ever start to a top-flight season since their promotion in 1978.
🇵🇹 Portugal: FC Porto vs Braga (Friday, 21:15 GMT)
Braga are looking intent on breaking into the top three in Portugal this season as they sit second at the moment with a two-point deficit to Benfica. Their mettle will be tested on Friday night when they visit defending champions Porto, who are three points behind them.
🇮🇹 Italy: Inter vs Roma (Saturday, 17:00 GMT)
The top three are separated by just one point in Serie A at the moment, but Inter and Roma are a little way behind that cluster with a gap of five and four points respectively to leaders Napoli and Atalanta. One of them could be left further behind after they face off on Saturday.
🏴 England: Manchester City vs Manchester United (Sunday, 14:00 GMT)
There are a couple of big derbies in the Premier League this weekend. On Saturday, North London will be the battleground between league-leaders Arsenal and Tottenham, and a day later, Manchester City and United will face off at the Etihad Stadium. Pep Guardiola’s side have been the considerably more successful club in recent times, but there is a lot of hope among those wearing red now after the arrival of Erik ten Hag. A tense and exciting match is guaranteed.
Stats courtesy Opta via FotMob.
- Crystal Palace shareholder John Textor slams Premier League financial rules
- Conor Gallagher determined to stay at Chelsea despite contract stand-off and Tottenham interest
- Eric Dier makes permanent switch to Bayern Munich from Tottenham
- Premier League manager of the month nominees for February revealed
- Paul Pogba receives four-year ban for doping
- Man United fans in uproar as Old Trafford relocation plans spark outrage
- Liverpool to make one last attempt to bring back Michael Edwards to lead post-Klopp rebuild
- Arsenal shortlist four strikers to replace injury-prone Gabriel Jesus
- Premier League reveal April fixture schedule for TV coverage
- Simone Inzaghi wanted by Liverpool, Man United & Chelsea – but who’s the best fit?