LONDON: Spain and Germany held on to claim uninspiring wins in the Nations League on Saturday, when Luxembourg and Montenegro also won their games.
Mikel Oyarzabal pounced on a horror slip by Swiss captain Granit Xhaka to seal a 1-0 victory for Spain in an empty stadium in Madrid, while Germany defeated Ukraine 2-1 in front of more than 17,000 fans in Kiev for their first win in the competition at the seventh attempt.
Joachim Loew’s team had drawn three and lost three since the first tournament began in 2018.
Spain lead League A Group 4 with seven points, ahead of Germany on five, Ukraine on three, and Switzerland with one.
At the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano in Madrid, usually home of Real Madrid’s second string side, Real Sociedad striker Oyarzabal struck in the 14th minute.
The Swiss boldly tried to play out from the back, but Xhaka slipped as he sought to collect goalkeeper Yann Sommer’s pass.
Mikel Merino pounced and threaded the ball through to clubmate Oyarzabal, who finished superbly past Sommer.
“I am happy for the victory and for adding three points,” Oyarzabal told Spanish television.
“We knew that [Switzerland] were a powerful team, that they liked to play a lot and that they had fewer points than they deserved.
“We also knew they were risking a lot from behind and we wanted to pressure them because we believed we could rob them and hurt them and that’s the way it worked out.”
There was a golden opportunity for Oyarzabal to double his tally in the 52nd minute.
Switzerland again struggled to clear their lines, Jesus Navas fizzed a cross-shot into the area which Sommer could only push into the path of Oyarzabal.
The striker’s effort, however, hit the post and went wide.
It was then the turn of Merino to scuff another prime chance. On the hour mark, a badly cleared corner fell to his unfavoured right foot and he shot high and wide directly in front of goal.
Sergio Ramos then saw an effort shielded away by Xhaka before a header went just wide moments later with Spain in the driving seat.
Switzerland thought they had an equaliser as Xherdan Shaqiri pivoted and sent the ball spiralling into the Spanish net.
But it was not to be as the referee handed Atalanta’s Remo Freuler a yellow card for a foul on Sergio Busquets in the build-up.
It was then the turn of Gerard Moreno to blast high after a smart twist and turn in front of the Swiss goal after a nice ball from Sergio Canales.
Luis Enrique’s side then contented themselves with seeing out the game, extending to 14 their current unbeaten run. They have also not lost in Madrid in 20 games dating back to 1987.
“It was not an easy game, it was not a game in which we have been especially fluid,” said Enrique.
“We took advantage of hard pressing to score the goal and then we had further opportunities to close down the game, but without luck.”
Spain next visit Ukraine on Tuesday.
Defender Matthias Ginter and midfielder Leon Goretzka scored to give Loew’s team their first win in the group, their first of the year, and after three games including the friendly against Turkey in which they squandered leads to draw.
A late penalty from Ruslan Malinovskyi ensured another nervy ending, but a Ukraine side depleted by coronavirus cases and injuries was unable to draw level. Andriy Shevchenko’s side was thrashed by France 7-1 in their friendly on Wednesday.
Loew said he was “satisfied” with the away win, but admitted “we should have been three or four goals ahead before they scored”.
After drawing with Turkey 3-3 in Cologne on the same day, Loew restored his regular players in Kiev, building the team around the Bayern Munich block of Manuel Neuer, Niklas Sule, Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry. RB Leipzig’s Lukas Klostermann and Marcel Halstenberg, and Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos also returned to the starting lineup.
Loew confirmed afterwards he will try to stick with the same players for Tuesday’s game against Switzerland in Cologne, another city where coronavirus cases are rising.
Two goals in the first half from Danel Sinani were enough for Luxembourg to defeat visiting Cyprus 2-0, while Montenegro maintained its perfect record in Group I of League C in beating Azerbaijan 2-0.
Montenegro have nine points from three games, followed by Luxembourg on six, Azerbaijan with three, and Cyprus with none.
Also, an early goal from Tjay de Barr was enough for Gibraltar to beat fellow minnow Liechtenstein 1-0. It was Gibraltar’s second ever competitive away win and their second consecutive in Group 2 of League D, which they lead with 6 points. Liechtenstein have 3 points and San Marino none.
In Group 1 of League D, Andorra drew with Malta 0-0, and the Faeroe Islands drew with Latvia 1-1. The Faeroes top the group with seven points from three games.
Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2020