Forrest treble earns Scotland promotion, Serbia also thru

Scotland's James Forrest celebrates scoring their third goal to complete his hat-trick against Israel during the UEFA Nations League - League C - Group 1match at Hampden Park, Glasgow, Britain, on Tuesday. — Reuters

BELGRADE — A superb hat-trick by Scotland midfielder James Forrest earned them a 3-2 home win over Israel in the Nations League and promotion to the competition’s second tier on Tuesday.

The result, which also sealed Scotland’s Euro 2020 playoff berth if they fail to qualify automatically, left them top of Group 1 in League C on nine points from four games, three ahead of Israel and six in front of Albania.

Serbia also sealed their passage to League B with a 4-1 home win over Lithuania which clinched Group 4 with 14 points from six games, two more than Romania who won 1-0 in Montenegro.

Scotland fell behind to a sumptuous 25-meter strike by Israel’s Brighton & Hove Albion forward Beram Kayal before Forrest, who scored twice in Saturday’s 4-0 win at Albania, turned the match on its head with some clinical finishing.

The Celtic winger equalized in the 34th minute when he drilled home a rebound from 12 meters after Andy Robertson’s shot was blocked and fired the Scots ahead two minutes before halftime with a fine effort from inside the penalty area.

Ryan Fraser, who set up the second goal, turned provider again in the 64th minute as Forrest took a low pass in his stride, beat a defender and calmly side-footed the ball past Israel goalkeeper Ariel Harush.

Scotland were forced to hang on in the closing stages after Eran Zahavi pulled one back for the visitors with a thumping low shot from 20 meters and the home team’s keeper Allan McGregor did well to keep out a fierce Tomer Hemed shot in the dying minutes.

Serbia took a 2-0 lead over Lithuania when an Arturas Zulpa own goal and an Aleksandar Mitrovic header put them in command after a goalless first half. Lithuania, however, reduced the arrears through Deimantas Petravicius.

Substitute Aleksandar Prijovic headed in Serbia’s third before Adem Ljajic rounded off a swift break to wrap up Serbia’s win on a chilly night at Partizan stadium.

Scotland and Serbia joined Norway and Finland, who had already sealed their passage to League B.

Poland forward Arkadiusz Milik scored from a twice-taken penalty to give his already-relegated side a 1-1 draw in Portugal in their final Nations League match on Tuesday.

Portugal, who had already qualified for next year's semifinals as winners of Group A3, went ahead with Andre Silva's near-post header from a corner in the 34th minute, his 15th goal in 31 appearances for the European champions.

Yet the hosts gave away a penalty when midfielder Danilo tripped Milik as he burst into the area and was sent off.

Milik's first effort from the spot was disallowed for encroachment, but he held his nerve to score again at the second attempt in the 66th minute.

In Stockholm, Sweden's Victor Lindelof and Marcus Berg secured a 2-0 win over Russia on Tuesday and promotion from Nations League B Group 2 thanks to a better head-to-head record than the visitors.

Both teams finished on seven points but a scoreless draw in Russia and Tuesday's win in Stockholm propelled the Swedes into the top tier of the new competition as group winners. Turkey were relegated to League C with three points following their 1-0 loss at home to Sweden on Saturday.

Defender Lindelof, named best player at Sweden's annual football awards last week, rattled home Mikael Lustig's knock-down from a corner to give his side the lead in the 41st minute.

Striker Marcus Berg, heavily criticized for his wasteful finishing during Sweden's remarkable run to the World Cup quarterfinals where they lost to England, extracted a measure of revenge by wrapping up the win with a tap-in in the 72nd.

The Swedes will be in League A for the next Nations League campaign and have an extra chance to qualify for Euro 2020 via the playoffs if they need it. Russia will remain in League B.

‘Nations League more

successful than imagined’

Europe's new Nations League soccer tournament pitting similarly ranked countries against each other has proven far more successful than UEFA imagined, the head of the continent's soccer body said on Tuesday.

The tournament, designed in part to remove meaningless friendlies, was initially met with skepticism and questions about the need for another tournament and its complexity.

Ahead of the last set of pool matches on Tuesday, England, the Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland have qualified for the finals in June, while Germany have been relegated from the top tier.

"The Nations League was and is even more successful than we thought. We always had complaints from the big football countries — 'We play with small countries', 'We don't play amongst each other' - and we always had complaints from small ones - 'We never win'," UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin told a news conference in Brussels.

The tournament also offers spots for the Euro 2020 championships, with knockout matches between teams in every group from top group A through to bottom-tier D.

"It's very interesting, and it's the road to Europe, which is also great for the D group to qualify to Europe. It was almost impossible before. All the numbers are fantastic," Ceferin said.

The UEFA president said promotion and relegation from groups made the tournament interesting, even if he had not been happy with his own country, Slovenia, dropping to the bottom tier. — Reuters