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Update UEFA League: Dries Mertens' freekick crushes England's hopes of reaching finals
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UEFA Nations League: Dries Mertens' freekick crushes England's hopes of reaching finals

[Image: webp-1605498057.jpg]

Three years after an embarrassing failure to qualify for the World Cup, Italy is back in contention with the best in Europe. England, meanwhile, is already out of contention for the Nations League finals with one round of matches still to play.

An Italy squad badly hit by the coronavirus still managed to beat Poland 2-0 on Sunday, putting the Azzurri in control of their group, while England was beaten 2-0 by top-ranked Belgium.

Another win at Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday will see Italy hosting the four-team finals in October -- just a few months after hosting the opening game of the European Championship in Rome.

“It’s our culture. Italians give their best during difficult moments and become more united. It’s what I asked of these guys before the game and they were extraordinary,” said assistant coach Alberico Evani, who has been standing in for head coach Roberto Mancini on the touchline.

Mancini is isolating at home with the coronavirus, as is striker Ciro Immobile, the winner of the European Golden Shoe last season. In all, more than 20 Italy players were unavailable due to the virus and injury.

Jorginho converted a penalty for Italy midway through the first half after Andrea Belotti was brought down inside the area. Domenico Berardi added another goal late in the second half after collecting a pass from Lorenzo Insigne.

“The more days went on, the more players kept leaving the camp, but we said to ourselves that we had to be even more united through these obstacles,” Belotti said. “It was a great performance and we proved that we were superior to Poland in every way this evening.

“We’re like a family, so coming back here is like a father embracing his son. That’s how we all feel when we come on international duty. We just need to look each other in the eyes to know what we’re doing,” Belotti added. “We dedicate this win to the coach, and also to everyone else who is self-isolating right now.”

Italy leads Group 1 in League A with nine points. The Netherlands is next with eight points after beating Bosnia 3-1. Poland is still in contention with seven points, while Bosnia trails with two.

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