MADRID – Spain had to work hard on Saturday to beat Switzerland and retain the top spot in League A Group 4 of the UEFA Nations League, while Germany came alive against Ukraine to post its first win of the 2020-2021 edition of the competition.
With three matches played, La Roja have seven points, two more than the Germans. Ukraine is on three points and the Swiss have a point.
Germany and Spain drew last month in Stuttgart in the first of their two meetings and the signs are that the return contest in Madrid on the final matchday will decide which team advances to the next round.
Switzerland turned out to be a tougher challenge than expected for La Roja.
Spain coach Luis Enrique made adjustments to his lineup after Wednesday’s scoreless draw with Portugal, going with David De Gea in goal over Kepa Arrizabalaga behind a youth-oriented squad anchored by veterans Sergio Ramos and Sergio Busquets.
The first opportunity fell to Switzerland’s Loris Benito, but De Gea proved equal to the task.
It was a different story at the other end of the pitch as Swiss keeper Yann Sommer practically gave the ball to Spain’s Mikel Merino with an ill-judged goal kick.
Merino passed to Mikel Oyarzabal and the Real Sociedad man made it 1-0 for the hosts in the 14th minute.
Spain had chances to extend its lead.
Budding star Ansu Fati saw a promising strike stopped early in the second half and Oyarzabal sent a shot into the side netting, but one goal turned out to be enough to secure all three points.
Germany, with draws in its two previous matches, was dominant against Ukraine in Kiev, enjoying 73 percent possession and putting 12 shots on target compared with four for the hosts.
Joachim Löw’s squad opened the scoring in the 20th minute, as Matthias Ginter beat Ukraine’s backup keeper, Heorhiy Bushchan, who stepped in after Andriy Lunin tested positive for COVID-19.
A mistake by Bushchan led to Leon Goretzka’s goal in the 49th minute and Germany looked to be in command with a 2-0 advantage.
The home side finally responded.
Roman Yaremchuk drew a foul from Germany’s Niklas Süle in the area in the 75th minute and the referee awarded a penalty. Ruslan Malinovskiy converted to cut the deficit to 2-1, but that was as far as the comeback got.