There were mixed fortunes for the Chelsea players on international duty, as an Edouard Mendy clean sheet gave Senegal the joy of qualification and Jorginho's penalty secured a vital Italy win, but there was disappointment for our England contingent.
The big story from Sunday’s internationals came in Italy, where the Azzurri battled against the odds, and Coronavirus, to move to the top of their Nations League group with a game remaining. No less than 20 players were forced to withdraw from the squad due to injury, positive Covid-19 tests or the need to self-isolate, with even manager Roberto Mancini having to watch the match against Poland from home.
That left Jorginho and Emerson, two of those given a clean bill of health and able to meet up with the squad, providing some vital experience in a much-changed Italy side, knowing they needed to win to jump ahead of the Netherlands and Poland into top spot.
After an early Italy goal was disallowed for offside, Jorginho had the chance to put them ahead from the penalty spot when Andrea Belotti was pulled down in the box at a corner. The Chelsea midfielder was back to his old self from 12 yards, finishing his run-up with the usual skip as he sent Wojciech Szczesny the wrong way and calmly rolled the ball into the net.
Italy dominated from there and after Poland has been reduced to 10 men in the second half Emerson was unlucky not to score the Azzurri’s second, as his powerful drive looked destined for the net before a brave block, but he and Jorginho were both involved as they did make it 2-0 late on at the end of a fine 27-pass team move, by which time Jorginho was wearing the captain’s armband.
Also in the Nations League top tier, over in Group A, Denmark kept their qualification chances alive, but England’s hopes came to an end.
Andreas Christensen played the whole match as two Christian Eriksen penalties gave the Danes a 2-1 home win over Iceland. It was a game that hinged on some late drama, as Iceland equalized with four minutes of the 90 left, only to concede again through a penalty two minutes into injury time.
Denmark will now take on Belgium on Wednesday with the winner qualifying, after the Red Devils triumphed 2-0 at home against an England side featuring Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount, with Tammy Abraham among the substitutes.
Both those goals came in the opening 25 minutes on a difficult night for the Three Lions, and there will be concern from Gareth Southgate and Frank Lampard as Chilwell was forced off with an injury before half-time.
England were on top of Belgium, the world’s top-ranked team, throughout the second half but couldn’t find the goal they needed to get back into the game. Mount created probably their best chance of the night, with a clever back-heel flick teeing up Harry Kane in space on the edge of the box, but the Tottenham striker couldn’t get enough power in his shot and it was comfortable saved by former Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Mount was then substituted with 20 minutes left to make way for a second striker as England pushed in vain for a goal.
In the second tier of the Nations League, Ethan Ampadu helped Wales stay top of Group 4 and on course for promotion as he featured throughout their 1-0 win over the Republic of Ireland. He had his work cut out for him in midfield in a cagey and often ill-tempered match, but he helped the Welsh control much of the second half and secure an important win.
It was also a big day in qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations and it couldn’t have gone much better for Edouard Mendy. He took his Stamford Bridge form to Cape Town as he kept another clean sheet, this time for Senegal, as they became the first team to qualify for the tournament.
That shut-out was vital in maintaining Senegal’s 100 per cent record in qualifying as Sadio Mane’s goal gave them a slender 1-0 victory over Guinea-Bissau, the country of Mendy’s father’s birth, who the Chelsea goalkeeper had once represented in an unofficial friendly before committing his international future to Senegal.