The rise of the UEFA Nations League


As the finals of the UEFA Nations League took place on Sunday in the beautiful city of Porto, between the home country Portugal and Netherlands, majority of football supporters will look back at the contest and will wonder what the actual strengths and positives are of the competition.

To start off with, the lively challenge and crucial thrill has been instantly injected into when the international break arrives, rather than the usual pointless friendly matches that take place here and there. Because of these futile games, a large number of well-known players feel their hunger for success and concentration decreases during the 10 to 14 days they spend in another environment.

Now, looking back at the UEFA Nations League from a fans point of view, it can easily be stated that the tournament is closely watched and followed by nearly everyone as the manager as well as the players have began to take it serious.  The winners receive a trophy as the prize award and another chance to qualify for the 2020 European Championships should they fail to do so through the qualifiers.

Given that the chances of winning either the Euros or the World Cup are very little for the countries outside of the top ten teams, this short competition will allows the likes of Croatia, Denmark and Serbia to potentially be successful in the long run. Not only that, both the players and the managers from these respective countries would receive more recognition going into the major tournaments.

Thanks to this incredible format, the supporters of the beautiful sport of football had the chance to see Netherlands overcoming France and Germany, England dominating Spain and having revenge on Croatia as well as both Portugal and Switzerland magically making it through their respective groups. On that note, there shouldn’t really be any issues or queries that downfalls this entertaining system.

Digging more into it, the system has been organised by four leagues and where they are placed separately by their current world rankings, with the motivation and inspiration being to reach League A before heading onto the knockout stages of the competition. The winners of the league move up a level, on the other hand, those who finish at the bottom are relegated to the tier below.

When reviewing it from the UEFA’s prescriptive, they have turned the friendly matches into a more meaningful list of fixtures, which gives the governing body of European football a better reputation for what they stand out for. And financially, the Union of European Football Associations can make a huge amount from the contest compared to making nothing at all from the international friendlies.

Overall, with how straightforward and effective the Nations League has been, it would not be a surprise to see a similar setup for the international football countries that are based in Asia and South America. If it was to end up happening, all the parties would see it as a win-win outcome, from the people making the decisions off the pitch to the supporters watching it live or at home.

Portugal win first ever UEFA Nations League as Ronaldo revels in the glory


Portugal beat the Netherlands 1-0 in the final of the first ever UEFA Nations League to crown only their 2nd ever international trophy and both have been won with Cristiano Ronaldo in the side.

The win which was deserved only underlined Portugal’s status, after all they did win the last European Championships in 2016, but this win will sit nicely with a team that have to surely be regarded as one of the favourites to win Euro 2020 next year.

While the European Championships remain much more important than the Nations League this was still an incredibly special night for Portugal given that the final was in Portugal. Ronaldo was part of the Portuguese team who in the 2004 final lost against Greece in what was seen as a shock 1-0 defeat. This happened in Portugal in front of their home fans, so even though this isn’t another European Championship it was a UEFA final and surely meant a lot to Ronaldo and his teammates.

But it wasn’t Ronaldo who was the goal scoring hero that went to Goncalo Guedes who struck what turned out to be the winning goal on the hour mark. Portugal deserved to win the game and had more clear cut chances, but they also looked more hungry and determined for the win.

As for the Netherlands, reaching a final marks a huge improvement for them, after reaching the 2010 World Cup final the Orange as they are so famously called have really struggled this decade and failed to qualify for major tournaments. They look to be back on the right track, but they will have to be less naïve in the future if they are to remain consistent and win trophies.

The match was very telling on how one team wanted the win and the other in the Netherlands felt that their semi-final victory over England where they won the match 3-1 after being a goal down was their personal final.

Ronaldo played his part too as he usually does and was seen in defence giving orders- when one sees Ronaldo like this just like in the Euro 2016 final when he was forced off with injury, but supported the players from the side lines one sees a potential future coach in the player.

And what of the UEFA Nations League? Has it been a success? Well in a nutshell yes and it does give the football fan something extra to cheer about and watch after the domestic season has ended. What is clear is that when it comes down to the semi-finals and final we are not watching friendly exhibition games anymore, all teams at that point want to win, that is the positive of it. However it still has a long way to go in convincing some of the bigger nations in the group stages of the competition to get their best game on, some like Italy and Spain didn’t seem too bothered. With time that might just change.


From England to Portugal who will win the first UEFA Nations League?

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We know now who will take part in the very first UEFA Nations League semi finals which will be held next year in Portugal in June.

Even though there have been mixed reactions to the new competition it does seem like the majority of teams are at least taking the games seriously enough and if the group stages didn’t convince some the semi final and final of this competition will and they are sure to be classic and intense matches.

The first thing we need to know is that the draw has not been made yet for the semi finals- this happens in December. We do of course know who will have the chance to pick up the very first Nations League trophy and below we will look at each teams chances.


What a year it has been for Gareth Southgate and England, reaching their 2nd semi final of a competition after their World Cup exploits in Russia this summer. England have had to beat Croatia who knocked them out of the World Cup in the last four and Spain away from home to get here, so there has been no lucky games for the three lions. Southgate has believed in youth and has shown hands on managerial one to one expertise which has run through this team. England want to play to win and have their best team in a generation. This could be England’s first chance of silverware since winning the World Cup in 1966.


Portugal will be the favourites to win the competition- mostly because of two things; they are at home and they have Cristiano Ronaldo- although after what should be a taxing an thrilling season for Ronaldo, his debut one in Serie A with Juventus they will be hoping that their man is fit enough and ready for the occasion. The last time Portugal hosted a tournament at home they lost in the final to Greece. Although they have more than made up with that in recent times winning Euro 2016.


Switzerland will be seen as the rank outsiders to win this, although their 5-2 demolition of Belgium, a side that dazzled at the World Cup should have raised some eyebrows. They are here on merit and always put in a solid display making them a hard side to beat. Switzerland have never won a major trophy, and will be 100% motivated to do so.


It’s fair to say that since reaching and then losing in the 2010 World Cup final, the Netherlands have been very poor, failing to qualify for the last World Cup and going through many coaches and a transition of sorts. It’s also fair to say that they played poorly in their final Nations League group game against Germany and yet claimed a 2-2 draw which saw them beat France on goal difference to be here. Perhaps the Germany draw was a real turning point for the nation, and they could be a genuine danger to any side come next June.



Frenkie De Jong and Matthijs De Ligt – The Ajax duo who are wanted at the Camp Nou


Barcelona have spent most of the La Liga 2018/19 season sitting confidently and dominantly in first place, though, they are only one or two points ahead of the likes of Deportivo Alaves and Sevilla.

Enersto Valverde’s side beat Real Madrid on the weekend in quite some fashion, as the main man in Luis Suarez stepped up Lionel Messi’s absence and notched up a hat-trick as the Blaugrana beat Los Blancos 5-1 at home. The hosts were a couple of steps ahead of the visitors from the start of the match till the end, which also led Real Madrid’s hierarchy with no choice but to sack Julen Lopetegui.

However, the side still seem to be out of their depth and unconvincing when their key individuals are either injured or suspended. Due to this, Barcelona are not able to effectively flex their ability or strength around the pitch like they have been doing so over the last decade in Europe and in Spain.

With the main talks being on the lack of depth in defence and midfield, Barcelona are reportedly aiming for reinforcements in both areas during the January transfer window, with the latest reports stating that they are targeting a certain duo from AFC Ajax in Frenkie De Jong and Matthijs De Ligt.

According to the local and reliable reports in Spain, they believe that Enersto Valverde and the Barcelona board have been keeping tabs on both De Jong and De Ligt since the start of the season.

With no further ado, it’s time to look at the duo who play for the same club and country…

Frenkie De Jong

Regarded as one of the most impressive and talented central midfielders in Europe right now, Frenkie De Jong is proving himself as an individual that is calm, cool and collected no matter which position he plays in. He has revealed his ability and composure to be able to play as a defensive midfielder and even as a centre-back, showing that he is certainly ready to play at the highest level.

Thriving from his intelligent reading of the game and the types of passes he can produce, he has a huge influence on Ajax’s aesthetically pleasing style of play and is one of the many reasons to why the Netherlands international team are expected to return to the position where they belong.

Looking at his game as a whole, De Jong has successfully completed 430 out of the 467 passes he has attempted so far this season, clearly implying that his technical ability is top notch and he has the tranquility to pass with both feet. The youngster is always positive when he is in possession of the ball, especially when he has the rock solid confidence to pick out a short or long pass when needed.

Alongside his number of abilities, the only concerning weakness is that he is a vital individual towards the way his side plays and it does come with a risk of being caught out of a defensive position, unless a teammate can step into his role if necessary. However, game after game, De Jong’s experience and understanding of the game will allow him to be at the right place at the right time.

Having produced 16 interceptions and 13 tackles in eight league appearances, the Arkel-born central midfielder is certainly managing his way of influencing the game on and off the ball. The 21-year-old has also shown the ability to lead the line in his own way, making him a player that is potentially worthy of becoming a captain in the future, whether that is at Ajax or at another club in Europe.

The Eredivise side are not expected to sell the midfielder during the January transfer window, as a deal of sorts could cause some harmony issues within the dressing room whilst it would take the Dutch club a number of weeks to a month to find the perfect replacement for Frenkie De Jong.

Matthijs De Ligt

When looking at the defenders Barcelona’s squad, both Gerard Pique and Thomas Vermaelen are coming towards their final years of their footballing career whilst Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti are regarded as the two individuals the club can rely on in the long run. On the other hand, the La Liga giants would have a complete backline if they are able to bring in centre-back Matthijs De Ligt.

Pique and Umtiti are the regular starters at the heart of defence for Valverde’s men, however, the potential arrival of De Ligt would allow the team to be much more composed and dominant in possession of the ball. His burst of pace would also be helpful on both sides of the pitch, from being able to intercept or tackle as the last man defender to being utilised as a ball-playing centre-back.

The 19-year-old has already been linked with the likes of Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Real Madrid and many other well-known European clubs, clearly showing that he has the potential to be one of the best players within his position one day. Though, it will be up to the player himself to personally decide for when he is ready to make the big move to one of the best clubs in Europe.

De Ligt’s breakthrough season at Ajax came during the 2016/17 campaign, where he was producing remarkable displays as well as becoming a key member for the club that went on to reaching the UEFA Europa League finals. He finished that season with an impressive figure of over 20 appearances in all competition, which was a total dream come true for someone who was only 17 at the time.

Since then, the rising youngster from Leiderdorp has become a popular person as he is regularly watched by a large number of European football supporters. Furthermore, his incredible intelligence mentally and tactically is simply one of a kind, something that cannot be easily said for majority of the defenders that play in Europe, making him a generational talent as a complete centre-back.

Given that Matthijs De Ligt has all the tools he needs in order to thrive in La Liga, a move from Ajax to Barcelona during the January transfer window should not be ruled out all. With President Josep Maria Bartomeu and the rest of the board looking to constantly be ahead of the other European clubs on and off the pitch, they could surely aim to make a statement signing in two months time.

France beat Netherlands to maintain momentum after World Cup title

mbappeFrance began life at home after winning their second World Cup with a hard-earned win over the Netherlands, who failed to qualify for this summer’s tournament. It seemed fitting that the first goalscorer was none other than PSG forward Kylian Mbappe, who won the “Best Young Player” award in Russia. His work rate wearing the blue of his national team is every bit as impressive as it is in the Parisian home kit, and he timed his run perfectly to get onto the end of Blaise Matuidi‘s lovely pass across the face of goal, tapping France ahead after 13 minutes. Didier Deschamps’ men were ahead until the second half, when Besiktas’ Ryan Babel brought the Dutch level. It wasn’t long until Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud restored the lead and ultimately won it for France.

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Netherlands aspire to secure second successive home win

Euro 2016

Completely dominant, is the best means by which to describe the Netherlands recent 4-1 victory over Belarus.

Two first half goals from Quincy Promes put Danny Blind’s side in the ascendancy, before Aleksey Rios replied for the Belarussian’s.

Nevertheless the Netherlands then resumed control of the game as Vincent Jansen and Davy Klaasen scored.

Despite the Netherlands margin of victory being handsome, it could have been far wider, since they accumulated 27 shots on goal.

Netherlands set to face in-form French

Subsequently following their success, which ended a run of five straight home defeats, the Netherlands will now aspire to win a second successive qualifier against France in Amsterdam.

The last time the two sides met was in the fourth of the Netherlands five match losing home run, as France earned a 3-2 friendly victory.

After Antoine Greizmann and Olivier Giroud had given Didier Deschamps’ side a 2-0 lead, the Netherlands drew level courtesy of goals from Nigel de Jong and Ibrahim Afellay.

Moments after the Stoke City forward scored in the 86th minute, Blaise Matuidi restored Les Bleus lead, to conclude a thoroughly entertaining game.

Just as the Netherlands did, France also recorded a 4-1 home victory in their most recent qualifier.   In their first game at the Stade de France since losing the Euro 2016 final 1-0 to Portugal, France recovered from the loss of an early Milhail Aleksandrov penalty to beat Bulgaria.

Whilst Kevin Gameiro scored twice, France’s other two goal scorers were Greizmann and Dimitri Payet.  The West Ham winger continued his superb return to form after scoring a superb solo goal in his club’s recent 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough.

Greizmann in the groove

Similarly Greizmann’s goal marked a continuation of the fine start to this season which he has made, as the 25-year-old is currently the top scorer in La Liga with six goals from six Spanish top flight appearances this season.

Netherlands v France set to be great contest

Therefore the upcoming contest between the Netherlands and France is set to be played between two confident and in-form teams.  At present the pair is level on four points with the same goal difference at the top of group A.

Sweden to challenge for qualification

Group opponents Sweden have made a similarly positive start to their qualification campaign since after drawing their first match 1-1 with the Netherlands Janne Andersson’s side beat Luxembourg 1-0 as Mikael Lustig scored his fourth international goal in 55 appearances.

Since that Sweden had 28 shots on goal and 65% of possession against Luxembourg, who are to be Belarus’ next opponents, the were largely frustrated in their efforts to score and now face the prospect of hosting Bulgaria, when they will aspire to secure a positive result to enable them to remain competitive at the top of the group.

Ultimately whilst it is France and Holland who are favourites to qualify from group A, Sweden undoubtedly possess the potential to also stage a strong bid to reach the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia, as proven by the accomplished performance which they produced against the Netherlands.

Before the two sides meet again on 10 October 2017 in their last qualification game, they will both aspire to amass a sufficient number of points to either secure or put them in contention of qualification.

Absence from Euro 2016 to inspire Netherlands

Given their absence from Euro 2016, as a result of a dismal qualification campaign, the Netherlands will be particularly determined to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals, so as to once again play on the most celebrated stage in world football and begin to re-establish themselves as a contender to win major honours, just as they were in Brazil two years ago.

The nature and outcome of their game with France will provide a fair indication of the extent to which the Netherlands are capable of competing against elite opposition, as they aspire to secure a second successive home win.

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Netherlands aim to arrest alarming decline in fortunes

Euro 2016

Given their global status as pioneers of Total Football, the Netherlands disastrous and ill-fated Euro 2016 qualifying campaign represented a disappointment of monumental proportions to a nation that performed so well at the last two World Cups.

Performing well at the 2010 & 2014 World Cups

Specifically the Dutch reached the 2010 final, which they lost 1-0 to Spain after extra time, whilst they avenged that defeat in the first game of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil by beating La Rioja 5-1.

Buoyant as a result of their emphatic victory over the defending champions, the Netherlands enjoyed another excellent tournament, in which they finished third.

However since then the fortunes of the Dutch national team have undergone a startling decline, with that alarming trend continuing at present.

Netherlands ignominious and notable absence from Euro 2016

As well as failing to qualify for Euro 2016, whereby they finished fourth in a group of six teams after collecting just one point from double-headers against Iceland, Turkey and the Czech Republic, the Oranje have now lost five successive home games for the first time since 1993, following their 2-1 friendly defeat to Greece.

Despite taking the lead through Georginio Wijnaldum, the Dutch lacked both the confidence and wherewithal to either consolidate or built upon their advantage, as they surrendered that by conceding two goals which exposed the defensive frailties that have plagued them since brilliantly beating Brazil 3-0 in the 2014 World Cup third place play-off.

That performance was one of great assuredness and composure, whilst those are attributes that were absent from the overwhelmingly majority of the Netherlands displays during their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

The Dutch were never in real contention to secure an automatic qualification place after losing two of their first three games, away to the Czech Republic and Iceland.  Furthermore by losing home fixtures against those same two opponents, they forfeited their chances of reaching the play-offs as Iceland, the Czech Republic and Turkey all finished ahead of Danny Blind’s beleaguered Dutch side.

Fresh challenge awaits Blind’s new look squad

As such the Netherlands were without doubt the most notable absentee from Euro 2016, whilst they must now endeavour to overcome the disappointment of that by making a positive start to their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, which opens up with an away game against Sweden.

In addition to Janne Andersson’s side, the Dutch, who are the top seeds in their qualification group, will also face France, Bulgaria, Belarus and Luxembourg as they aspire to reach a fourth consecutive World Cup finals.

Ultimately that represents a significant challenge to Blind and his current squad of players, missing from which are the country’s two all-time leading goal scorers Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Robin Van Persie, who have scored 42 and 50 international goals respectively.

Nevertheless, ready to spearhead the Dutch attack is Tottenham striker Vincent Janssen, with the 22-year-old having scored in three of his first six international appearances.

Janssen is one of a host of players relatively new to the international scene included in Blind’s squad, with the others being the defensive duo of Virgil Van Djik and Patrick Van Aanholt, along with a quartet of midfielders in form of Riechedly Bazoer, Davy Klaasen, Davy Propper and Jorrit Hendrix and the strike pair of Bas Dost and Steven Berghuis.

As such there is a distinctly new look to the Netherlands squad tasked with trying to arrest the nation’s recent decline in fortunes, which they will require to successfully achieve in order to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Why would Manchester United sign Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben?


Manchester United are being increasingly linked with Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben, with reports suggesting a £20M move could be in the offing in the January transfer window. United manager Louis van Gaal has recently cited the need for more pace and creativity in the wider areas, but there are many reasons Robben wouldn’t be the best fit for the Red Devils, so why would Manchester United want to sign him?

It’s not the first time the Dutchman has been linked with a move to Old Trafford, and with former Netherlands manager Van Gaal currently in charge in the North-West, it’s not a surprise to see the rumour mill in full force again. Robben was meant to be one of the marquee signings made in Van Gaal first season at United, but it was former Real Madrid midfielder Angel Di Maria who was their biggest import in 2014.

Reports have suggest discontentment between Robben and teammate Robert Lewandowski, but still a move away from the Allianz-Arena seems highly unlikely for the Dutch winger. He turns 32 in January, so has little to no resale value if United were to sign him, let alone how much his wages would set the club back. Robben is a known injury risk, and would want contractual protection as a result.

Signing a player with his track record for muscle problems would be a suicidal move by the scouting team, especially considering how many other players they could sign for the same amount of money and receive many more years of uninterrupted service. Southampton’s Sadio Mane was subject of a bit from United in the summer, and a renewal of interest is expected when January comes around.

Mane has lit up the Premier League in his short time at St Mary’s, but looks a player with a bright career ahead of him, rather than being in the eve of his career like Robben. There are certainly many more like the Saints winger that Van Gaal will be considering, making it all less likely that Robben is on the shortlist.

Defensive contribution is one key attribute Van Gaal asks of his players, and one area Robben has notoriously struggled in throughout his career. Many will argue the Dutchman successfully operated as makeshift striker under Van Gaal in the 2014 World Cup, but playing him in such a position for United would not only tread on the toes of Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial, but defeats the point of signing a known winger.

Could Netherlands fail to qualify for Euro 2016?


Netherlands find themselves in a precarious position in Group A following a shock 1-0 defeat to Iceland on Thursday, with the Oranje currently third in the table after seven games. They are only one point ahead of fourth-placed Turkey, who they still have to face on the road in their next game, and defeat will see them in real danger of a premature elimination. Their slump in the qualifiers has come as a real shock considering they were semi-finalists in the World Cup only a year ago.

But a managerial change hasn’t seen results improve, and Netherlands are fast running out of time to turn things around. Given their poor form of late, it would hardly be a surprise to see the European giants defeated by Turkey, and that would leave them relying on other results to give themselves a chance of automatic qualification. It started badly for the Oranje with defeat to the Czech Republic in their opening match of Group A. They have gone on to drop points in four of their seven games played.

Iceland lead the way in the group with 18 points from a possible 21. The Czech Republic are second with 16 points. Netherlands have only 10 points for their troubles, and don’t appear likely to be catching the top-two now, so their battle is for a playoff spot, and Turkey are sure to provide stiff competition. The two sides lock horns on Sunday at the Konya Büyükşehir Torku Arena – a ground where the hosts have lost just once from four games played.

And with Netherlands having suffered two defeats in three away games, the formbook suggests Turkey will overtake them in the table this weekend. Matters are made even harder with injury to a key player in Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich) too, and it seems everything is going against the 2010 World Cup runners-up. They’ve had a lot of inexperience in the team, but their ageing stars remain standout performers.

The likes of Klass-Jan Huntelaar (6 games, 4 goals), Arjen Robben (4 goals, 2 goals) and Robin van Persie (5 games, 2 goals) have done their bit to get the goals, but the ever-alternating Oranje defence can’t stem the tide. Given Turkey have two very difficult games to come after Netherlands – Czech Republic away (10/10/15) and Iceland home (13/10/15) – the Oranje may well settle for less ahead of a tricky away tie. Losing to Turkey would be catastrophic, but maintain their one point lead going into a favourable class against Group A whipping boys Kazakhstan would be acceptable. But can the side finally deliver?

Memphis Depay signing is a statement of title intent from Manchester United

Manchester United recently confirmed the signing of prolific PSV Eindhoven forward Memphis Depay, who reportedly turned down a move to Liverpool to join up with his former Netherlands head coach Louis van Gaal at Old Trafford. With the Red Devils paying around £25M for the 21-year-old, it’s a real statement of intent being made by a club who have to be gunning for the Premier League title next season.

Van Gaal has said he was given three seasons to win the league crown with Manchester United, and given the calibre of signings that have come into the club in his short time in England, United certainly have little excuses to not be maintaining ground on the top-flight elite. This season, they are set for a top-four finish, but are currently five points adrift of third-place, and are in fact suffering their worst form of the campaign. But sealing Champions League football for next season was key, and they look on course to achieve that.

They have now signed one of the most-coveted young talents in the world, and are lining up many more names this summer, which should see them boasting a squad that can stand up to the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City this time round. Depay in particular could be the difference. A lot has been made about United’s need for defensive reinforcements, but the Netherlands international will give them goals that they have been lacking against the top sides.

Depay has scored 21 goals in 28 games this season, and given United are averaging less than two goals a game in the Premier League, the 21-year-old’s arrival could come at a better time for them. He’s been heavily endorsed by a former United and Netherlands star, Jaap Stam, who believes the PSV man could be player to turn the Red Devils into a genuine title-chasing outfit for next season.

“He’s a quality player. United always want to attack and the club always has an interest in players that have a lot of pace and who can also play the one-vs-ones and create something or score goals. Memphis is that type of player. He’s proven that in Holland for a couple of seasons now and also with the national team and I think it’s a good step for him to join United now, and also work with (manager) Louis van Gaal because he knows him very well of course,” he said.

The likes of Ilkay Gundogan and Mats Hummels – both  of Borussia Dortmund – have been mentioned as other potential summer signings, which further shows how much money United are willing to spend to achieve their goals of winning back the title.