LONDON: Scoring freely for club and country, Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku could hardly have started the season any better.
For England defender Harry Maguire, things are going from bad to worse.
On a night Lukaku scored twice for Belgium in a win at Iceland to move to 55 international goals at the age of just 27, Maguire was sent off in England’s home loss to Denmark for a reckless challenge that potentially raised questions about his state of mind since his high-profile offseason arrest on a Greek island.
Lukaku has netted three goals for Inter Milan in its opening three Serie A games this season, and has an identical record for Belgium in the Nations League, having scored in a 2-1 loss to England on Sunday.
With his double in the 2-1 win over Iceland on Wednesday that moved top-ranked Belgium into first place in in League A, Group 2 after four of the six qualifying games, Lukaku is already up to 40th on the list of all-time leading international scorers. His 55 goals for Belgium have come in 87 matches.
A century of international goals looks a realistic target for Lukaku, a milestone reached last month by Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo couldn’t add to his current total of 101 goals for his national team because he was forced to miss the game against Sweden after he tested positive for the coronavirus.
Portugal coped just fine without its best player, with his replacement Diogo Jota scoring twice in a 3-0 win.
Maguire’s form has been poor for Manchester United this season, his last display for his club seeing him part of a defensive shambles as Tottenham Hotspur won 6-1 at Old Trafford in the Premier League.
There are concerns that the centre-back — the world’s most expensive defender — still hasn’t fully gotten over an incident in Greece in August when he was convicted and handed a suspended 21-month sentence for assaulting a police officer in a late-night brawl. He has since been granted a retrial, and reclaimed his place in the England squad after initially being dropped.
However, he put in a worrying performance against Denmark, picking up an early yellow card for a crude tackle from behind and then getting a second booking for scything down Kasper Dolberg in the 31st minute after miscontrolling a pass.
“He is having a period where he is getting a lot of stick thrown his way,” England coach Gareth Southgate said of Maguire, when asked if the player’s off-field distractions were spilling onto the pitch. “But he is big enough to deal with it.”
Christian Eriksen, making his 100th international appearance, converted a penalty four minutes later to earn Denmark a 1-0 win at Wembley Stadium. Denmark are above England on goal difference but two points behind Belgium.
England also had right-back Reece James sent off after the final whistle for dissent toward the referee. It is the first time England has had two players red-carded in the same fixture.
MBAPPE GETS FRANCE WIN
In a repeat of the 2018 World Cup final, France beat Croatia again.
Kylian Mbappe scored a 79th-minute winner in Zagreb as the French maintained their hold over the Croatians, who have never won a match between the teams. France won a Nations League game last month and the World Cup final by the same score of 4-2.
After Antoine Griezmann put France ahead, midfielder Nikola Vlasic equalised midway through the second half.
Les Bleus have still never lost to Croatia and are level with Portugal on 10 points at the top of League A, Group 3.
Portugal, winners of the inaugural Nations League, shrugged off the absence of Ronaldo as they beat Sweden in Lisbon.
Liverpool’s Jota set up Bernardo Silva for the opener then scored two of his own, one either side of half-time.
“This team will always be better with Cristiano, but they showed they can still compete,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos.
Meanwhile, the prolific Robert Lewandowski scored a brace as Poland beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 3-0 in Warsaw. Karol Linetty got the other goal and Poland are top of Group A, a point above Italy and two ahead of the Netherlands.
The Dutch came from behind to draw 1-1 with Italy in Bergamo, with Donny van de Beek netting for Frank de Boer’s side after Lorenzo Pellegrini put Italy ahead.
Below the top tier, Scotland continued their tentative revival by beating the Czech Republic 1-0 at an empty Hampden thanks to an early goal by Newcastle United’s Ryan Fraser.
Scotland are now unbeaten in eight matches and are four points clear of the Czechs at the top of League B, Group 2, and five ahead of Israel who came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 in Slovakia with a hat-trick from PSV Eindhoven’s Eran Zahavi.
In Group 4, Wales won 1-0 in Bulgaria with a late Jonny Williams goal. They are unbeaten in eight competitive games, and Ryan Giggs’ side are top with 10 points, a point ahead of Finland.
Stephen Kenny is still waiting for his first win as Republic of Ireland manager after a 1-0 defeat in Finland left his side out of contention for top spot in that group.
Also in League B, Northern Ireland kept Erling Braut Haaland quiet enough but a second-half Stuart Dallas own goal gave Norway a 1-0 win in Oslo in Group 1.
Turkey came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Serbia in Group 3, which is topped by Russia who were held 0-0 by Hungary in Moscow.
Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2020