The Nations League returned over the past week in the first international break of a pandemic-disrupted year, and whilst football fans often bemoan the pause from club action it proved an intriguing round of fixtures.
Several notable names enjoyed performances to remember ahead of the coming campaign and we’ve decided to look at the players who starred for their national sides this week.
Here are six players who smashed it during the Nations League:
Cristiano Ronaldo’s shattering of records has become so often it’s almost mundane, but the superstar’s landmark moment in Portugal’s 2-0 win over Sweden is one certainly worth celebrating.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner became the first player in history to score a century of goals for a European nation, firing home a superb free-kick on the stroke of half-time before swiftly making it 101 international goals with another fabulous finish after the break.
Ronaldo remains firmly amongst the finest players in world football and enjoys talismanic status for both club and country, Portugal having enjoyed a fine start to the Nations League with back-to-back wins for the European champions over Croatia and Sweden.
Ronaldo’s record now stands at a phenomenal 101 goals in 165 caps for Portugal, the 35-year-old now just eight goals short of Iran’s Ali Daei as he bids to become the greatest goalscorer in the history of international football.
There’s just no stopping Erling Haaland and his rapid rise to the upper echelons of world football, the Borussia Dortmund star continuing his fine form with another devastating display on the international stage this week.
It’s now 19 goals in just 20 games this calendar year for the goalscoring sensation, who scored three times in two Nations League fixtures, including a clinical brace as Norway thrashed Northern Ireland 5-1 in Belfast.
Haaland’s goals were his first at senior level for Norway and whilst his first came in defeat to Austria, his performance against Northern Ireland was a demonstration on why the 20-year-old is regarded amongst the best young players in the game.
Ian Baraclough’s side simply had no answer to an unstoppable performance from Haaland, who first volleyed home a sensational first before turning provider for Alexander Sorloth, his electric pace taking him in behind the defence before squaring for his strike partner to turn home.
Haaland’s speed was once again evident as he raced clear to score his second, clinically dispatching his finish into the top corner before paying tribute to former Swansea hero Michu with the Spaniard’s trademark celebration.
It’s now three goals in just four caps for the forward, who is likely to carry Norway’s hopes of success for the next decade and longer.
Thriving alongside Haaland as Norway’s pair of twin towers in attack was Alexander Sorloth, the 24-year-old showcasing he has the talent to thrive at the highest level despite a disappointing spell in the Premier League.
Sorloth has struggled to make an impact since moving to Crystal Palace two years ago, but a prolific loan spell at Trabzonspor has provided a timely reminder of the Norwegian’s talents, with RB Leipzig reportedly seeing a £20m rejected for his services earlier this year.
❍ 2 goals & 1 assist vs Northern Ireland
❍ 2 goals vs Northern Ireland
Norway have a pair of monster forwards. 💪 pic.twitter.com/piJCvJmdd9
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 7, 2020
Sorloth scored twice during Norway’s thrashing of Northern Ireland, his physical presence proving more than a handful for the Irish backline, including a headed knock down to assist Haaland’s first goal of the evening.
Winner of the Golden Boot in the Turkish Super Lig last season, it remains to be seen whether the towering target-man is handed another chance in the Premier League or sold on for a big fee with clubs across Europe circling.
After a frustrating spell on the periphery of the France national side, Anthony Martial is beginning to demonstrate how useful an asset he can be for the reigning world champions.
Martial has spent the past two-and-a-half years in the international wilderness before making his first start for France since March 2018 against Croatia this week, delivering a performance of the highest quality in a repeat of the 2018 World Cup final.
Anthony Martial's game by numbers vs. Croatia:
91% passing accuracy
9 (NINE) fouls won
4 shots attempted
3 chances created
1 shot on target
1 woodwork hit
Back with a point to prove for Les Bleus. 😤 pic.twitter.com/qvO5PwGeek
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 8, 2020
The Manchester United forward had won a penalty after coming on as a substitute in the win over Sweden, before starring from the start as Didier Deschamps’ side ran out 4-2 winners against Croatia.
Martial provided an assist for Antoine Griezmann’s equaliser, before forcing an own goal from Dominik Livaković, turning a cross from Wissam Ben Yedder against the post before seeing the ball bounce in off the unfortunate goalkeeper.
Reports from the France camp suggest Martial has returned to the fold a completely different character following a fine season for his club, the 24-year-old a viable option either wide or centrally in Deschamps’ preferred 3-4-3 system.
Dominik Szoboszlai is a name that has been linked with a whole host of leading European clubs of late, the teenager the latest bright prospect to come through Red Bull’s famed production line of talent.
The Hungarian midfielder currently plays his club football for Red Bull Salzburg and has impressed for the Austrian outfit, and there are those within the club who believe he could reach the same heights as their previous notable exports, including Sadio Mane, Naby Keita, Dayot Upamecano and Marcel Sabitzer.
The 19-year-old was named as the Austrian Bundesliga’s Player of the Season last term and has already established himself at international level, earning Hungary a precious Nations League win with this stunning effort to defeat Turkey.
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) September 3, 2020
It was the second free-kick the youngster had scored for Hungary and remarkably his sixth for club and country since September 2019, Szoboszlai a player seemingly with the world at his feet at present.
Arsenal and AC Milan are amongst the clubs to have been strongly linked with a hugely exciting teenage talent and Salzburg look set to allow another rough diamond to depart in the near future.
Ansu Fati added another historic moment to his fledgeling career during the Nations League fixtures this week, the Barcelona prospect having earned his first senior call up to the Spanish national side.
The teenager became Spain’s youngest player in 84 years when making his debut in the draw with Germany last week, before going one better by making a huge impression as Luis Enrique’s side made an unbeaten start to the Nations League.
Spain and Barcelona have got some player on their hands…👏
17-year-old Ansu Fati scores his first goal for the Spanish national team with this incredible finish! 🎯😍pic.twitter.com/0OWNpSr6uB
— Sky Sports (@SkySports) September 6, 2020
Fati became the Champions League’s youngest ever goalscorer during a breakthrough season at the Camp Nou last term, before becoming the youngest goalscorer in Spain’s history with a thumping effort in La Roja’s 4-0 thrashing of Ukraine.
The 17-year-old also earlier won a penalty – converted by Sergio Ramos – in an impressive introduction to senior international football, justifying Luis Enrique’s decision to call the youngster into the first-team set up.