I missed a couple days, so the results are in for the teams in the last two entries of my best games of the June Nations League window. Even so, these games are worth remembering in themselves–and we can now confirm that they laid the groundwork for one promotion and one relegation.
14th Bosnia and Herzegovina 3 – Finland 2 (League B, Group 3). Bosnia and Herzegovina had tied Finland 1-1 in matchday 1, and entered this game one point ahead of both Finland and Montenegro at the top of an extremely tight Group 3. On a 3’ corner kick, Sauli Väisänen pulled down Edin Džeko to give up a penalty kick dispatched by Miralem Pjanić at 5’. But at 10’, HJK Helsinki’s Lucas Lingman fed MKS Cracovia’s Benjamin Källman in behind down the right, who crossed in for Teemu Pukki to equalize against the run of play.
Bosnia and Herzegovina continued to threaten Lukáš Hrádecký’s goal, only for Finland to strike again on the counter, Lingman launching a ball forward from outside his own box at 18’ for Pukki on the left. Pukki fed Källman, and he put Finland ahead. That lead only lasted until 29’, when Pjanić hit a stunning vertical pass from just inside Finland’s half to play Džeko into the box. Although his equalizer was initially ruled offside, VAR showed that Džeko’s run had been perfectly timed and the goal stood.
From there, control of the game actually shifted to Finalnd, who controlled the remainder of the first half. They made a triple substitution at halftime (which included Rangers’ Glen Kamara) and began the second half in the same light. But just before the hour mark, Džeko scored from the top of the box on a counter-attack to put Bosnia and Herzegovina ahead.
Finland responded with an attacking barrage, and Ilmari Niskanen should have equalized with the second of two chances at 65’, set up beautifully by Pukki. Finland laid siege to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s box for the remainder of the game, but were unable to draw level a second time. That left Bosnia and Herzegovina at the top of Group 3 by a point, and their win against Montenegro on Friday secured them promotion to League A.
England 0 – Hungary 4 (League A, Group 3). With England, Germany, and Italy placed together, Group 3 was always going to draw attention. But when Hungary upset England on matchday 1, things rose to a new level. Hungary then managed to tie Germany in matchday 3, so that they entered this game 2nd in the group behind Italy, with England in last behind a 3rd-place Germany. At the same time as Hungary’s visit to England, Germany took care of business with a 5-2 home victory over Italy, the kind of result England were hoping for.
Marco Rossi went with a largely unchanged side for Hungary, though Péter Gulásci’s suspension meant that Ferencváros’s Dénes Dibusz got his second start in goal (Union Berlin’s András Schäfer also came into the midfield). Darren Southgate continued the policy of rotation he had used throughout the break, bringing in a particularly young group for this game with a midfield of Jude Bellingham, Kalvin Phillips, and Conor Gallagher as well as Marc Guéhi in the defense.
England came out on the front foot, but at 16′ a long free kick from RB Leipzig’s Domink Szoboszlai wasn’t cleared, and ended up falling to SC Freiburg’s Roland Sallai, unmarked, to rifle home an opener against the run of play. That led to a strong spell from Hungary, but by the half hour mark England seemed to be back in the game, if not able to equalize.
At halftime, Southgate switched England from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2, bringing Raheem Sterling on to partner with Harry Kane up top, moving Reece James from left fullback to right wingback, and dropping Bukayo Saka into the left wingback role. This change seemed to further England’s attacking threat, and shortly before the hour mark, Hungary responded with a double change, bringing on Ferencváros’s Adám Nagy and the Philadephia Union’s Dániel Gazdag as Southgate doubled down with the introduction of Mason Mount.
Hungary’s change seemed to work, as they were able to stabilize their defensive structure and disrupt England’s game (if not their possession). At 68′, Phil Foden replaced Bellingham, leaving Phillips in the sole holding role and only remaining member of England’s starting midfield; while Hungary brought on Ulsan Hyundai’s Martin Ádám. Arguably, both changes had an immediate impact, as 2′ later Ádám stripped Phillips and fed Sallai into the box for Hungary’s 2nd.
In truth, England continued to threaten following the goal, with James looking particularly threatening from the right. But at 79′ Loïc Négo replaced Sallai in attack, and at 80′ his blocked header was recovered by Ádám to set up Zsolt Nagy for a strike from the edge of the box to put Hungary three ahead. 2′ later, John Stones got a second yellow card to remove all doubt, and just before the end of regulation Adám Nagy hit a clinical vertical pass for Gazdag, who chipped Aaron Ramsdale for Hungary’s 4th goal.
The obvious comparison to Hungary’s momentous 6-3 victory over England in 1953 (followed by an even more comprehensive 7-1 loss in Budapest in 1954, as this game was preceded by a less comprehensive 1-0 victory there) is undoubtedly hyperbolic. That game transformed England’s own self of itself, while this one is unlikely to make much difference beyond this window (provided England don’t lose to Iran or the United States in their opening games of the World Cup). Nonetheless, it is an embarrassing loss, and one that set up England’s relegation from League A following a 1-0 loss at Italy on Friday.
Nations League Round-Up
Here’s where things stand with the majority of the final match day left to go in the Nations League group stage.
League A: Having followed up their historic win over England with a 1-0 victory in Germany, Hungary plays Italy today for a berth in the semifinals, needing only a tie to advance. Somewhat less surprisingly, Portugal and Spain will determine the final semifinalist in their match tomorrow, with hosts Portugal only needing the tie. The Dutch secured an already likely semifinal spot yesterday with a 1-0 win over Belgium, who would have needed to win by more than 3 goals to displace there Netherlands. Croatia did the same with a 3-1 over Austria that kept them just ahead of a Denmark side that beat France 2-0.
Austria’s loss meant that they joined the already-relegated England, as did Wales, who could have edged out Poland with a win but instead lost 1-0 and depart winless from League A. Switzerland and the Czech Republic play tomorrow to determine the final relegation from League A, with the Swiss needing only a tie to remain in the top grouping for 2024-25.
League B: Israel and Bosnia and Herzegovina secured promotion to League A with their matchday 5 wins, while tomorrow’s Ukraine – Scotland and Norway – Serbia ties will determine the other promoted sides, Ukraine and Norway only needing ties. Everything remains up for grabs in terms of relegation, as the winners of Albania – Iceland, Armenia – Ireland, and Sweden – Slovenia will remain in League B. Romania will need both a win or tie against Bosnia and Herzegovina and a Finland loss to Montenegro to avoid the drop (though with a Romanian win, a Finnish tie would also see the Nordic nation dropping to League C).
Leagues C and D: Greece had already secured promotion to League B by the end of the June window, and they were joined by Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Georgia in matchday 5. Belarus, Gibraltar, Lithuania, and Cyprus (unless they get a better result against Kosovo than Northern Ireland does against Greece, in which case it’s the Green and White in the hot seat) will play two matches in March to determine which two teams are replaced by Estonia and Latvia in League C.