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This Week In Football: Last-minute UWNL drama, Santos relegated & more

There was all sorts of action kicking off all around the world this week, right from international tournament qualifiers to final league matchdays. Here are five of the biggest results:

🌍 UEFA Women’s Nations League: Netherlands 4-0 Belgium

The final day of the group stage of the inaugural edition of the UEFA Women’s Nations League produced some incredible drama.

League A also served as the qualifying tournament for the Olympic Games, with two spots on offer. They would be decided in the play-offs, but getting there required winning a group.

England were the favourites in Group 1 as Team GB’s Olympic hopes rested on them, but a couple of shock results against the Netherlands and Belgium left them on the back foot going into the final day.

The equation then was this – the Lionesses had to beat Scotland by a margin that was at least three goals greater than what the Netherlands managed against Belgium.

England were 4-0 up at half-time thanks to the efforts of Beth Mead and Lauren James, so the Netherlands knew their one-goal lead over Belgium was not enough.

Both protagonists got one each early on in the second half but then there was a lull until stoppage time, when it all kicked off.

Damaris Egurrola put the Netherlands back in the ascendancy, but Lucy Bronze pulled England back in front almost immediately thereafter.

The decisive blow came after the final whistle in Glasgow, as Egurrola headed home in the last minute of stoppage time to win the group for the Dutch!

🇧🇷 Brasileirão Série A: Santos 1-2 Fortaleza

The final day of the season in Brazil was held in midweek.

The title was all but officially decided as Botafogo had squandered a massive 13-point lead and Palmeiras had pulled three points clear, with a massive goal difference advantage that made it virtually impossible for anyone to chase them down. They got a draw for good measure anyway, but the real drama came at the bottom of the table.

Three teams had already been relegated, but three others remained in danger for the last spot. Two of them were newly promoted Bahia and Vasco da Gama, while Santos were the third.

The former club of Pelé and Neymar had never tasted relegation before in their 111-year history, and they looked least likely to go down as they started with the highest points tally of the trio and had the easiest fixture on paper.

What followed was quite incredible. Bahia smashed runners-up Atlético Mineiro 4-1, while Vasco grabbed an 83rd-minute winner against earlier title contenders Red Bull Bragantino.

Santos never managed to take the lead against Fortaleza, ultimately losing the match late in stoppage time and with it, their top-flight status.

Santos fans certainly did not take this result well, as it sparked riots in the city. The Alvinegro have a real rebuild on their hands now, both on and off the pitch.

🏆 AFC Champions League: Hà Nội FC 2-1 Urawa Red Diamonds

Over in Asia, more than half of the AFC Champions League groups drew to a close.

That included all of the West Zone, as well as one from the East. Group J featured the defending champions Urawa Red Diamonds, who were in a spot of bother as they needed to win on the final day and hope for other results to go their way to have a chance of advancing to the knockouts as one of the best runners-up.

Facing Vietnamese side Hà Nội FC who were rooted to the bottom of the group, Urawa Reds would have backed themselves to do their part and perhaps even win by a sizeable margin to bolster their goal difference, but things did not quite work out as planned.

A missed penalty in the 10th minute was a sign of things to come, as the Japanese visitors went behind early in the second half.

They did equalise a little bit later, but their quest for a winner left themselves so exposed at the back that they conceded one themselves.

That marks the end of a very mixed 2023 for Urawa, who went from experiencing the highs of an AFC Champions League triumph to the low of a group-stage elimination right after the end of a relatively disappointing league campaign.

It should be no surprise that they are in the market for a new head coach at the moment.

🇩🇪 DFB Pokal: Saarbrücken 2-0 Eintracht Frankfurt

The magic of the cup has been overflowing in the DFB Pokal this season, as we have been treated to three quite incredible rounds.

Giants such as Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and defending champions RB Leipzig have already fallen, so we are sure to get a memorable winner in 2024.

In the midst of all the upsets, the team that stands out is mid-table 3. Liga side Saarbrücken. They beat second-tier Kaiserslautern in the first round, staged the shock of the year against Bayern thereafter, and have now given the same treatment to recent Europa League champions Eintracht Frankfurt.

Their win over their near-neighbours was by no means undeserved, as they created by far the better chances and eventually took them. They also had a goal ruled out in the first half, and the final xG scoreline of 1.50 – 0.32 should say everything about who the better side was.

Saarbrücken will know who their next opponents are when the draw is made on Sunday, but they are guaranteed to play the quarter-final at home.

Regardless of who they get, they will surely back themselves to continue this incredible cup run.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Premier League: Aston Villa 1-0 Manchester City

Finally, we head over to England to check in on the defending Premier League champions.

Manchester City’s December slump has hit them harder than usual this time around, as they have failed to win four consecutive league matches for the first time since Pep Guardiola’s debut season.

In fairness, they did draw three of those against tough opponents in the shape of Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, but their defeat to Aston Villa was truly concerning.

Pep Guardiola’s side were totally outplayed in a manner that would have been utterly unthinkable just a month ago.

Unai Emery’s disciplined Villa side defended with incredible discipline to concede just two shots, while they continuously probed City’s defence when they had the ball and eventually took a deserved lead through a deflected strike.

Quite incredibly, this result sees the Villains jump over Man City and into third place. While they enjoy a remarkable season, the defending champions must regroup as they have now fallen six points behind league leaders Arsenal.

Stats courtesy FotMob.

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