The rise of the UEFA Nations League

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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

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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.

England

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

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

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.

Netherlands

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.

 

 

Caution should be applied as Gareth Southgate’s England reach UEFA Nations League semi finals

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England have had a superb calendar year which has culminated in reaching their second competition semi final in a row, the UEFA Nations League after this summers World Cup. Ironically to do so they had to beat Croatia, the team that they lost to at the World Cup.

The game against Croatia which was held at Wembley Stadium in London was awash with revenge, but it was the away team that took the lead, and with just thirty minutes left it looked like England would yet again lose to the World Cup runners up. But an equaliser followed and Harry Kane got the winner and it’s true that the weight of that World Cup loss was lifted.

The nation is lifted and England will now go to play in the semi finals in Portugal next June- their opponents will not be known until December when the draw is made.

The press have put down England’s opponents. Croatia have been called wannabe’s whilst there was plenty of jibes at Germany after they were relegated from League A. The question though is does any of this really matter? After all Croatia did knock England out of the World Cup and did reach the final. Germany won the World Cup in 2014, and although they have had a rough 12 months will bounce back. Some respect needs to be afforded to these teams.

Imagine if England go on to win the Nations Cup, it would be the first real trophy England would have won since winning the World Cup in 1966- no we are not going to count the Le Tournai tournament in 1998 where the winning captain Alan Shearer had a face like thunder. If England win, the country may just go into hyperbole. But hold your horses, this isn’t the European Championships and it isn’t the World Cup, it is just a glorified competition borne from UEFA that just adds more football to an over inflated season.

In some ways you can’t blame coach Gareth Southgate and the players- they play too win, and there is a trophy and prestige to be won. You beat who is in front of you and now there is an extra final to be played, so of course you are going to take it seriously. But should pundits and fans? Does there not come a time where we can separate the competitions that matter? If we fixate over every small competition are we all just settling for second best? So if England do win it, congratulations, but hopefully there won’t be an everlasting love in, after all it is a competition that just feels like batched glorified friendlies with points.

Southgate is a good coach, a good listener and has a real chemistry with his players. This squad wants to play for him, and let’s not be churlish here, England does have a very good team, good enough to win Euro 2020? Right now that would be in balance, but in 2 years time with progress made and no hitches, England have every chance. Don’t fall for second best has to be the mindset here. Play these games, win them and move on to what really matters.

 

Germany’s latest woes in the UEFA Nations League should spell the end for Joachim Low

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Germany, the great international side that are usually compared to the very greatest footballing nations in the history of football have been relegated in the UEFA Nations League.

What this means is that the team cannot win the next edition of the new international cup set up by UEFA. This is all by and large and the competition is still under scrutiny as to whether nations are really taking this seriously. After all it isn’t the World Cup or European Championships and feels like glorified friendlies. Still whichever way you look at it relegation means you are not getting results and this has been a quite woeful year for the Germans so accustomed to winning.

But when will the finger point to coach Joachim Low. Low has been in charge of the national side for an incredible 12 years- surely his tenure is up now? In that time he has won the ultimate prize- the World Cup in 2014 as Germany became the first ever European side to win it in South America when that edition was held in Brazil.

Many expected Low’s time was up this summer when Germany exited the World Cup in Russia at the group stages. It was the first time in 80 years that Germany had done so and pardon the pun was a new low for the national side. His sacking seemed inevitable and yet the German FA gave Low the choice- he remained in the hot seat.

Low has done fantastically well for the national side, reaching the European Championship final in 2008 and making the latter stages of major competitions but surely now is the time to walk.  Since the World Cup things have hardly improved for Low with just 2 wins from 5 games and now failure in the Nations League.

What Germany need now is another strong character in order to qualify for Euro 2020 which shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Low has actually done very little wrong in his time with the national side and him stepping down should just be an occurrence of time, and he has certainly had his. It would be a major surprise if the FA do not take action and let him go if he doesn’t want to.

If anything Low who is almost 60 needs to give others a chance and there are a lot of ex German players now that are reaching that age where they would like to give the national team a decent shot. Change is needed because if not the great German side may just stagnate, something that we couldn’t see coming in a generation. Low’s time is up.

 

England manager Gareth Southgate is right to question why the Premier League kicked off so early this season

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It took just 27 days after England were defeated by Belgium in this summers World Cup for the 3rd place play off for the English Premier League to kick off. When it did on August 10th it was, as ever. welcomed but it did feel that the league was starting incredibly soon after the World Cup.

Neither player or fan have had much time to recuperate after such a major finals and now England manager Gareth Southgate has spoken out about this. Southgate said: “Everyone adapts their training load appropriately. But I think when you see the league, there are a lot of teams who haven’t started yet at the level when they are at their maximum. There have been a lot of injuries across certainly our league, too. I don’t know about the rest of Europe.

Southgate added: “I don’t really understand why our league started so early but they did, so it’s been a really difficult situation for the clubs. Some of the clubs couldn’t field a team without, look at Tottenham Hotspur, who had so many players in the semi-finals of the World Cup. They had to put players straight into matches on the back of very little pre-season. It was an impossible situation for the coaches really. I didn’t really know, and I hadn’t looked into when the season started until when we got back from the tournament. Maybe they were expecting us to be back by the end of June. I assumed the rest of the world were going to be there until the middle of July.

“It’s always easy to make a comment like that and not know the complex scenario the decision makers had to go to, because that happens to me quite a lot. But everybody knew when the final was going to be, and the semi-final, and that the players would be away for a period of time.”

It was quite a statement for Southgate who, as an example has seen the national side looking weary and tired as he hooks up with them for their Nations League matches. But Southgate is spot on in his assessments of why did the Premier League start so early?

Given that there is no major tournament next summer it seems odd, and the league could have started in late August or even at the beginning of September. The Spanish and Italian leagues both started a week later than the Premier League. And it was no surprise to find that the German Bundesliga did not kick off until the end of August, this is the same league that takes a month off for Christmas and New Year.

An explanation from the Premier League would be welcomed, though one would not want to hold their breathe on a reply.

 

 

Will the UEFA Nations League survive in the long run?

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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.

Spain may have turned a corner under Enrique

spainscoreSpain began their UEFA Nations League campaign with an impressive 2-1 win against Gareth Southgate’s England at Wembley, indicating they may have just turned a corner since their turbulent World Cup campaign. The appointment of Luis Enrique as Julen Lopetegui’s permanent replacement was seen by many as a positive move towards getting the Spaniards back to their best after a disappointing campaign in Russia this summer. Lopetegui was sacked just days before Spain’s first game in the tournament and while stand-in Fernando Hierro deserves credit for leading the nation to the tournament in such difficult circumstances he did not seem to be the right man for the job, hence Enrique’s appointment.

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