The draw for the group stage of the 16th edition of the European Championship took place in Bucharest on Saturday, as the 20 already-qualified countries learned their fate. There are still four spots to be determined at next March’s play-offs, but we now know who the vast majority of sides will be playing in the first round of next summer’s pan-European competition.
Euro 2020 qualification is shaping up with all of the big guns qualifying easy, but have the bigger nations just had it too easy this time?
UEFA has increased the competition from 16 teams to 24, their excuse is that more nations who normally don’t qualify will get that chance and Finland have reaped that reward as an example. Wales are their too. But at the same time increasing by 8 teams also means it is very unlikely that we will get any shocks. For example the Netherlands have failed to qualify for a couple of major competitions this decade and Italy not being at the 2018 World Cup was a major surprise. Increasing teams chances also means that the bigger nations can have off days and still qualify.
England are a good example of how qualifying for the competition has basically become mundane, boring and predictable. Yes if you’re an England fan you would love the fact that the nation scored 11 goals in their last two qualifying games and didn’t ship any in their 7-0 win over Montenegro and 4-0 victory over Kosovo. But once you see that a whole domestic weekend of Premier League football had to be shifted in order to see such a miss match it just makes no sense.
England are not the only ones. There has been huge victories for the likes of Portugal and Spain and Italy recorded a 9-1 win over Armenia. Talk about competitive football.
In truth it is hard not to think that qualifiers exist for two reasons: Gate receipts and for UEFA to spread their brand and sponsorship. The solution seems an easy one not to have a qualification process. Qualifying has simply become too easy for the big nations whilst other nations are producing miss matches. Yes lesser footballing nations need that competitive football and they will get that with the UEFA Nations League, a rather silly idea but better than friendlies. Though let’s remind ourselves that friendlies still exist.
So just have no qualification and have all European national sides qualify for the competition proper. True it means the likes of San Marino could get hit for 10 goals in the competition proper, but the match would still feel more important being in a major competition than tucked away on a Monday night in Group E.
Qualification is here to stay though and it is just a thought. For now international football seems quite redundant as long as it’s not one of the major competitions- it is an advert in the blockbusting and interesting movie that is domestic football.
It was suspected that it would happen before the game and then it did. England played Bulgaria away from home and the nations black players had been warned that racist chanting could happen during the game. But this time there was a plan of action at hand.
Sure enough the racist chants bellowed out throughout the stadium in under 30 minutes and it was heartening to see something different happen- the game stopped, the referee abide, talked to England manager Gareth Southgate and also a group of racist fans were led out of the stadium. Finally some action whilst the game was going on had occurred. Black players who have had to endure vile chants usually monkey gestures were taking that fight back.
One had to feel sorry for Tyrone Mings, who had earned his place finally in the England team. This was his debut for the national side and it should have been a memorable and proud one. Sure England won 6-0 and Mings played his part but it all got overshadowed by the racists.
After the game UEFA charged both sets of fans- England for chanting during the Bulgarian national anthem and Bulgarian fans even if in the minority and their racist and also Nazi salutes. But what will be the outcome?
Simply put UEFA have been pretty useless at dealing with racism. Getting the worlds best players to partake in anti racist messages does not work, banners do not work, adverts do not work, fines do not work, banning certain fans does not work. having sections of the ground closed off does not work and even playing behind closed doors does not work. So what is the solution.
Maybe simply there is none. Racism has been with us for centuries why would it go away in 2019? It won’t and to think it will is living in dreamland. But Bulgaria need to be punished as does any other nation and football club by that matter. The punishment needs to be to stop that supply- that means to actually stop the football club or nation operating. In effect suspending a business.
Bulgaria should be thrown out of the Euro 2020 qualifying and then banned from partaking in the qualifiers for the next World Cup. With every other friendly game played outside the country. It might seem harsh but a message needs to be sent.
As for clubs, stop the fines and start docking points. As much as 10 points, punish those clubs if they are on the verge of European football and those 10 points drop them out of contention or could be the difference between being relegated or not.
No matter what colour you are or religion, you have the right not to be harassed on a football field and in the wider spectrum society. We will never get rid of racism, but we need to reduce it, and the only way of doing that is by having a zero tolerance attitude.
Italy wrapped up their latest set of Euro 2020 Group J qualifiers with a 2-1 victory Sunday evening over second-place Finland, with Ciro Immobile putting away his first goal for the Azzurri since September 2017 and Jorginho converting the decisive match-winner from the penalty spot.
With wins over Armenia and Finland, Roberto Mancini’s men maintained their perfect record in the qualifying phase with 6 victories and have moved closer to securing a spot in next summer’s competition.
Here are five takeaways from Italy’s latest matches. Continue reading
England’s number 1 goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was able to play some pivotal moments in Everton’s up and down season which saw the Mersey siders finish the season strong after a slow and poor start could have caused an early exit for new manager Marco Silva.
All eyes were on Pickford to see if he could ‘earn’ Everton some valuable points and he ended up keeping 14 clean sheets, 2 better than Hugo Llroris who finished above him in the rankings.
Pickford’s season started out as a nightmare as he saw Everton not only struggle for points but also kept conceding goals and it meant than in his first six games he had yet to earn a point and in fact was on -10 points.
Pickford’s first points of the season didn’t actually come until the end of September, when at Goodison Park, the Toffees were able to beat Fulham 3-0 thus earning Pickford 7 points for his clean sheet.
The Everton keeper’s best period of the season started in mid March and ran through to the beginning of May where from 7 league games he kept 6 clean sheets and Everton found a new belief, finishing the season strong and beating the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United. Indeed the club beat United 4-0 and that was seen as one of the biggest surprises of the season and a wake up call for them.
Pickford was also involved in the 0-0 game against Liverpool. This is a match that Everton fans will remember for some time given that it was the last time that Jurgen Klopp’s team dropped points during the season and thus, in theory, Everton stopped Liverpool from winning the league, something that Pickford and the club and fans would be very happy about given the rivalry between the sides.
Pickford wasn’t without criticism this season and that is a given. Simply put because he is England’s number 1 there will always be the spotlight on him. His worst match came against Tottenham just before Christmas where Everton, at home, were thrashed by Mauricio Pochettino’s side 6-2 in an embarrassing game for the Toffees who certainly came unstuck and as a result Pickford earned -10 points. Indeed had Pickford never experienced that game he would have finished 3rd in the rankings.
The conclusion was that Pickford finished 5th and 19th overall for goalkeepers in Europe. He finished with a points total of 53, this is his best of his career so far and he will be looking to impress next season with England manager Gareth Southgate watching on as Euro 2020 gears up.
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After England international Raheem Sterling was subjected to vile racist abuse in England’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro the Manchester City playmaker said “It sounds harsh, but which fan will risk racist behaviour if it might relegate their team or ruin their title bid? Small fines do no damage to clubs and countries, but one group of people who do have the money to make them take notice are sponsors. The next time that a club or governing body fails to act appropriately against racism, I would love to see that company pull its money out and make a moral stand. I don’t know how long it will take for things to change but we have to start now. I don’t want the next generation of black players to have to put up with this evil.”
So it seems a slap in the face that UEFA have announced that Montenegro will face a fine of just 20,000 euros, a figure that is totally affordable to the nation. But wait there’s more they will also play their next match against Kosovo on June 7th behind closed doors. And that is that. Case closed.
UEFA have ended up handing out a very standard fine, something we have seen for the past 15-20 years in European football. If racist chants against black players were happening years ago and these type of fines were applied, why is it that nothing has changed in 2019?
UEFA’s decision to hand such a small fine and a one match behind closed doors is simply mindboggling, it makes absolutely no sense. It also takes Sterling’s words and throws it in the nearest bin- it feels as though himself and other countless black players have been silenced. The small fine will not stop racist chanting happening again. And Sterling was right to pick out sponsors that is UEFA’s life blood. Could you imagine McDonald’s pulling out of football- now that would make UEFA think.
So what should UEFA have done? They had two choices. The first would have been to keep to a fine but instead make it 10 times more and get the national side to play half of their remaining games behind closed doors, but let away fans in.
The second would be simply to have kicked the team out of the competition. This seems incredibly harsh because at the end of the day it isn’t the players fault, but it would have set such a brutal barrier as to have a zero tolerance attitude on racism.
Instead and sadly Montenegro have been fined just like other clubs and nations over the years, a small amount that feels like a slap on the wrist- and an open letter to make racism boil over once again in the future.
The domestic football season has taken a break for the next week and some of the football results have been a surprise. Portugal drawing 0-0 with Ukraine was one, featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, the European champions could not beat Ukraine on their home turf. The other match that stuck out was a Lionel Messi Argentina team who lost 3-1 to Venezuela.
Argentina’s result was seen as a huge shock, even though the match was just a friendly and as usual Messi was given the scapegoat tag. How could it be that such a wonderful gifted player who is in brilliant form for his club side Barcelona not be able to perform and inspire his side to what should have been, at least on paper, a routine win?
One has to wonder if the importance of club football and the ever decreasing unimportance of international football is having its effect? Look at the evidence. An international match of no significance has come up bang in the last moments of the Spanish league title. Barcelona are 10 points clear and should win, but in a couple of weeks they will be playing in the Champions League against Manchester United.
Messi should be preparing for these matches both physically and mentally. Playing against Venezuela in a match that counts for very little save a few FIFA rankings points makes very little sense. The only saving grace for him and other international players who have bigger and more important games coming up is that the match was in Europe, Madrid to be exact at Atletico Madrid’s ground.
Is it any wonder then that players like Messi are not motivated to play in the match? It can end up being a physical game, so what happens if he gets injured and then misses important matches for Barcelona, that actually mean something? At least in Europe, UEFA saw that friendlies were meaningless and introduced the UEFA Nations League. Whilst that competition does have its own flaws, it is still much better than friendless.
As for Ronaldo the situation was different in the fact that Portugal’s 0-0 draw with Ukraine was a Euro 2020 qualifier, but still it took the Juventus man time to get into the game. True the match ended up being a one sided affair where Portugal had an incredible 18 corners and dominated possession. But it was also a match where they really should have strolled home to a victory. With several players involved in title run ins again it just feels that such matches with just two months of the season in Europe left to play, simply come at the wrong time.
With such a full football calendar that UEFA have, it seems that nothing is going to change in the short run. But especially when matches are friendly ones, we shouldn’t be too shocked if the worlds best players are not up for a game, with so many important competitive fixtures around the corner.
On Saturday at the Stadio Friuli in Udine, Italy managed to secure the 2-0 win over Finland in Group J of Euro 2020 Qualifying thanks to Nicolò Barella and Moise Kean opening up their accounts for the Azzurri.
Here are the player ratings from the victory. Continue reading
There has, of course, been no domestic football around Europe in the top leagues now for the past 9 days and that will stretch to two weeks because the UEFA Nations League has taken over the football calendar, but is the new competition really good for football in general, and will it be able to survive?
On the face of it the Nations League seems like a great idea, instead of meaningless friendlies which were always about box office receipts why not have international teams play each other and it means something? And that’s what the Nations League is in a nutshell, come next June one nation will be holding aloft a trophy.
However with UEFA there is always a catch, and this one is that only the best teams can win the trophy. Rankings are in place which means the likes of Scotland or Sweden can’t actually win the tournament. They are in different leagues and the best they can do is be promoted from said league and try to work their way up to league A in order to have a chance to win.
But is the Nations League that important and relevant? In general international teams are putting out strong squads but Portugal have still rested Cristiano Ronaldo, something that would never happen if a major tournament was taking place. And let’s not forget the introduction of the Nations League hasn’t killed the friendly game which is still taking place.
Qualification for major tournaments has now been pushed back, so instead of matches to qualify for Euro 2020 taking place in September those games do now not start until next March. It seems that the Nations League is simply adding another unwanted competition to the list of games and players are looking all the more fatigued for it.
And what of the winners of the competition? If for example England were to win it, but what it matter? It would be their first trophy since winning the World Cup in 1966, but it isn’t the World Cup and it isn’t the European Championships. In short it feels like the Intertoto Cup of the International arena.
Perhaps the best solution would have been for the Nations League to never have materialised and still have a greater number of friendlies reduced, because international matches and becoming like adverts between a major movie. It is becoming harder and harder to get engrossed with the major leagues, every time the drama reaches fever pitch, the Nations League and friendlies kick which has the ability to bring us all down.
It would be no surprise, if in 10 or 15 years time the Nations League is something consigned to history, many other minor international cup competitions have fallen on their own sword and the introduction of the event seems like a money grab.