Mbappé, Sterling rediscover scoring touch in Nations League

Kylian Mbappé and Raheem Sterling have started their new seasons a lot better than they finished their last.

With an individual goal that combined fortune and inspired impudence, Mbappé earned France a 1-0 win at Sweden in the Nations League on Saturday.

Earlier, Sterling converted a penalty in second-half stoppage time to give England a 1-0 victory at Iceland in their first meeting since the tiny Nordic nation’s shock win at the European Championship four years ago.

Both forwards were making their first appearances after a shortened offseason break that was further truncated owing to their involvement in the closing stages of the Champions League last month.

While Sterling missed an open goal as Manchester City went out in surprise fashion to Lyon in the quarterfinals in Lisbon, Mbappé was among the Paris Saint-Germain players to spurn chances in the final as they lost to Bayern Munich.

They rediscovered their scoring touch with their countries in the round of games in the Nations League, which marks the return of international football after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. All games are being played without fans, with players taking mandatory pregame tests for COVID-19.

In other games in the top-tier League A, Portugal — still the reigning continental champion after the 12-month delay of this year’s European Championship — beat Croatia 4-1 thanks to goals by Joao Cancelo, Diogo Jota, Joao Felix and Andre Silva. Portugal was missing Cristiano Ronaldo, who was out because of a toe infection.

Top-ranked Belgium secured a 2-0 win at Denmark after Jason Denayer’s first international goal was followed by a second from Dries Mertens.

The matches largely had the feel of preseason friendlies, with many of Europe’s top players a long way short of full match sharpness because some leading domestic leagues are yet to begin their 2020-21 campaigns.

MBAPPE MAGIC

When Mbappé received the ball out on the left wing in the 41st minute, he had lots of yellow Swedish jerseys between him and the goal.

The 21-year-old PSG star bore down on Mikael Lustig and Kristoffer Olsson, and got a bit of luck as the ball deflected off the outstretched foot of Olsson and back into Mbappé’s path.

Mbappé then spotted Sweden goalkeeper Robin Olsen had crept slightly away from his near post. From an acute angle, he found the gap between Olsen and the post with a left-footed shot for his 14th international goal.

It proved to be a comfortable win for the world champions at the Friends Arena in Stockholm — and it would have been more convincing had Antoine Griezmann not blazed a penalty over the crossbar late on after substitute Anthony Martial was fouled.

WILD END

With two red cards and two penalties, the Iceland-England game had a wild ending completely at odds to the labored nature of the rest of the game.

England had already been reduced to 10 men because of Kyle Walker’s 70th-minute sending-off for two bookings when Sterling earned a penalty after his goalbound shot was blocked by the hand of Sverrir Ingi Ingason.

Ingason also was dismissed as it was his second yellow card of the game. Sterling stepped up — with usual penalty-taker Harry Kane having been substituted — to slot the ball down the middle in the first minute of stoppage time.

There was still time for Iceland — a country with a population of 330,000 — to earn a penalty of its own seconds after the restart. Birkir Bjarnason curled his spot kick over the crossbar.

The English gained a measure of revenge for the 2-1 loss to Iceland in the last 16 of Euro 2016, a result they still struggle to live down.

Players from both teams took a knee before kickoff in support of the Black Lives Matter movement

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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