The 2023-24 season has just begun and we already have our first international break of the season. As the fever of the World Cup wears off, UEFA Nations League is here to take centerstage and serve as the qualifiers for the upcoming Olympics in 2024 and the Women’s Euros in 2025.
League A (the top league) has four nations of interest for the Madridistas with Scotland in Group 1, France in Group 2, Denmark in Group 3 and Spain in Group 4. The table toppers in each of these groups will compete in a final four playoffs with the final two teams earning a spot into the next year’s Olympics. Although things aren’t straightforward for Great Britain and Scotland, who need England to top the group and reach the final in order to secure qualification.
Here is a recap from matchday 1 of the UEFA Women’s Nations League!
Denmark 2-0 Germany
By: Yash Thakur
Denmark were up against Germany in League A group 3 on matchday 1. Both the national sides had different managers in the dugout for them in this game. Martina Vos-Tacklenberg was out with an illness for Germany while Denmark changed manager after World Cup.
Denmark appointed Andrée Jeglertz, the former Linkopings manager, after Lars Sondergaard’s tenure came to an end after the World Cup.
In his first game, Jeglertz lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Sofie Svava starting the game as the winger on the left flank instead of her normal fullback or a wingback role. Amalia Vangsgaard led the line for the Danes as Signe Bruun started the game off the bench. The Danes defended in a 4-4-2 off-the-ball shape with Harder and Vangsgaard as the front two.
Germany, on the other hand, were in a 4-4-2 shape with Alexandra Popp and Sydney Lohmann as the front two and a midfield two of Lina Magull and Lena Oberdorf.
Vangsgaard scored a brace after showing strength in duels against the German centerbacks and some poor showing in the defense from Germany. The Danish side capitalised on these mistakes and did well to hold on to the lead.
Germany had marginally more of the ball and had more shots but those were off the mark. Their crossing approach was geared to utilize the aerial prowess of Popp but she couldn’t find the back of the net on the headers and the missed the mark entirely. They recorded just one shot on target from 14 shots in the game.
Svava with a cover behind her to do the defensive duties looked relieved and tried to influence play in the attacking third. She did alright on the ball and was often seen plugging the gaps based on Harder’s movements across the pitch. She didn’t get many opportunities to cross the ball from a deeper position in the opposition half. Defensively she picked up the loose balls frequently and tried to move the ball upfield or pass it into Harder as soon as possible. She started the game and completed the full ninety without any issues.
Bruun came on very late in the game (in the 89th minute) to replace Vangsgaard and did get on end of a couple of opportunities but was called offside.
This game throws a spanner in the works for Germany who are coming on the back of a disappointing World Cup campaign that saw them being eliminated from the group stages. This makes their qualification for the Olympics a bit tricky. The Nations League is off to a flying start.
Denmark will be up against Wales in the next matchday of the UEFA Nations League on September 26th.
Sweden 2-3 Spain
By: Kani Froh
Spain kicked off their Nations League group with 3 points over Sweden. The match wasn’t any different than the semifinal match they played in the World Cup - with same amount of intensity as both teams brought in that semifinal.
In the middle of the scandal between the RFEF and Spain women’s national team, Sweden decided to show public support to the world champions in their fight for better conditions. They held up a banner with Spaniards that said “Our fight is the global fight” while the Spanish players also wore bracelets with the famous hashtag #SeAcabó (“It’s over”) sending out a strong message.
España y Suecia, con Jenni Hermoso.— Relevo (@relevo) September 22, 2023
✊ "Nuestra lucha es una lucha global".
Ambas selecciones mostraron una pancarta antes del inicio del partido. pic.twitter.com/YE8wC2H0T1
Spain’s new coach, Montse Tomé, decided on a regular 4-3-3 formation that La Roja is used to playing with. Cata Coll on goal with the back four of Olga and Ona on the fullbacks, and Paredes and Aleixandri in the center formed the defense. Alexia and Aitana were accompanied with Teresa as the deepest midfielder. With the absence of Esther and Redondo there was a new incorporation of Manchester United’s Lucía García who led the attack with Caldentey and Athenea on the wings.
As expected, La Roja was controlling the game, at most times. However that small percentage they didn’t manage to control, Sweden took advantage of. One of the two corners Swedes had in the whole game was in 23’ where Kosovare Asllani was the one taking it. She sent a perfect cross to Eriksson who put Sweden in the lead with her header. After this goal, both teams pushed to score.
Fourteen minutes later, in 37’, Mariona was running on the left side and seeing Athenea close to her, positioned right in front of Sweden’s penalty area, passed the ball, and Athenea took a shot from there. With Mušović’s mistake, failing to catch the ball, the shot bounced off the outer part of her arm into the goal. Athenea’s long-range attempt finished in the equalizer for Spain.
The scoreline ended 1-1 at halftime. There were no changes in the Spain’s line-up all until 71’ when Eva Navarro replaced Athenea. Only 8 minutes in, she’d score the goal to put Spain in the lead for the first time in this game. After pulling off her trademark move in the area against Sweden’s leftback Andersson, Atletico Madrid’s winger took a shot to the far upper corner of the net.
The drama didn’t end here as Lina Hurtig scored an equalizer for Sweden in 82’. Thinking all was over, with 4 minutes of added time, Amanda Ilestedt receives a red card in the very last minute of the stoppage time giving a penalty for Spain. Mariona Caldentey took it and confidently put it in. Another late winner for Spain against Sweden puts them on top of the group 4 of league A after the first matchday of the Women’s Nations League.
England 2-1 Scotland
By: Kani Froh
Both England and Scotland also decided to show their support to Spain wearing the same bracelets Spaniards wore in their game against Sweden. These two games weren’t the only matches in which this message was sent out, as a few more Nations League matches featured the same gesture.
Caroline Weir played a very similar role she’s used to playing with Real Madrid. Scotland’s 4-2-3-1 formation let her go up more and participate in attack a lot, even though Scotland were found defending most of the time.
McLaughlan on the right back had her hands full going against Chloe Kelly and Lauren James, managing to stop their attacks most of the time. In 25’ England had a corner kick that was taken by Lucy Bronze and perfectly executed by Rachel Daly’s brilliant header. However, despite all that, in the end the goal was ruled offside because Chloe Kelly was in the offside position clearly disrupting the Scottish goalkeeper’s view.
After the half-an-hour mark, Scotland went up with a huge help from Hanson on the left. Despite their efforts, England managed to score another, in 39’, which was a legal goal scored by Lucy Bronze after Zelem’s precise long ball to give the English their deserved lead.
All the goals were packed in the finishing minutes of the first half. Another England goal came in 45’ from Daly’s run on the right side after which she sent a cross to Lauren Hemp’s head, doubling England’s lead.
Scotland minimized their loss in 45+2’. Weir’s recovery after a mistake between Earps and Greenwood, opened up a chance for Scots when Emslie received the ball on the right and immediately sent it to Hanson who was waiting in the center to put it in.
There were no changes at halftime from either side. Scotland came into the second half much more energetic and determined to score another. They were going up much more, and Weir’s attacking role was getting more evident, when she even got a close call at a shot on goal. They kept their continuity until the 82’ when Scotland made their first substitution after which the game got even more intense. Weir was seen starting and orchestrating attacks, Scottish defense was doing everything in their power to stop England while the rest of the team managed a couple more shots. Despite their determination, and 4 changes in the last 10 minutes of the match, Scotland didn’t manage to equalize. Caroline Weir completed full 90 minutes for Scotland in her Nations League debut.
Important detail to note is that if England finishes top of the group and are one of the finalists of the Nations League, Great Britan will be qualified for the Olympics 2024 and Real Madrid’s Caroline Weir could get selected for the Great Britain squad. However, this way Scotland’s chances to qualify for the Women’s EURO 2025 will be less.
France 2-0 Portugal
By: Willy Kusa
France kicked off their campaign with a solid 2-0 win over Portugal. The win came as Herve Renard’s side got back to winning ways after their heartbreaking penalty shootout loss to Australia’s Matildas in the quarter finals of the Women’s World Cup.
France started the game in a 4-3-3 with Picaud in goal; Perisset, De Almeida, Wendie, Karchaouai forming the back four. A midfield 3 of Sandie Toletti, Orianne Jean-Francois and Grace Geyoro with Kadidiatou Diani, Eugenie Le Sommer and Selma Bacha up front. Key notable absentees we’re the benched Pauline Peyraud Magnin and the injured Maelle Lakrar, however they welcomed Mbock and veteran Amandine Henry back into the squad.
Portugal started with their typical 4-3-1-2 with Kika Nazareth providing creativity as the (10) with Silva and Encarnacao tasked with providing the goals.
The game started at a fast pace with both teams wanting to hit each other on the break, Le Sommer and Diani were dangerous missing early chances and Geyoro proving a handful with her late runs. Portugal had a few look-ins with the pacy Encarnacao getting behind a few times.
France opened the scoring in the 27th minute with a Geyoro exchanging passes with Diani and the PSG midfielder found herself open in space to slot in the first goal.
Portugal responded with a few attacks but the French defended those well in a scrappy first half.
The second half saw France trying to assert their dominance and brought on Vicky Becho for Toletti - who had a fine game in midfield - and Henry for Jean-Francios to control the game more.
The match went on without any clear-cut chances until Bacha sealed the win with a well taken finish in the 89th minute.
Real Madrid’s Toletti completed 63 minutes in this match having completed the second most successful tackles.