It’s tempting to think of the Nations League as a joke tournament, something conjured up in the drug-addled mind of a Nyon suit. But no, it isn’t and England are in the finals! Anyone who derides the latest UEFA brainchild is just jealous; their nation let them down and derision is their rapier defence. Oh, and they hate England, despite supporting an English team…
Twice in the space of five months, Gareth Southgate inspired his team to new heights as they taunted relegation and laughed in the face of Croatia to gain revenge. This wasn’t a dish served cold, it was a custard pie in their faces.
Sixteen games unbeaten trifles in comparison. It’s stunning that the Arsenal board didn’t get on-board the ‘Love Train’ and hire Southgate when they had the chance. His genius was there for all to see; all hail, Sir Gareth as a knighthood will surely follow? Ahem.
Fair play to Southgate and his squad; they proved the more consistent of the three teams in the group and probably deserved to win it.
Yesterday saw another mugging in the capital with Fabian Delph robbed of his Man of the Match award. Harry ‘Hodor’ Kane snatched the award with his poacher’s goal, which is no surprise. He picked up his award from the sponsors and kept a few important business clients happy.
There are benefits to reaching the finals. Euro2020 qualifying is straightforward. Ten groups – five with five teams, five with six – with the winners and runners-up all qualifying, along with four playoff winners to complete the bloated 24-team format.
The playoffs feature the top sixteen Nations League teams who don’t qualify for Euro2020. So England
It was a night when Southgate’s revenge was full and complete. Belgium, who you may recall beat England into fourth place, capitulated to Switzerland. 2 – 0 up, 5 – 2 down; it’s not quite as catchy as “one-nil down, two-one up” is it?
Granit Xhaka played well by all accounts, which is no surprise. His confidence is high this season with Unai Emery taking much of the credit for that. I say Unai Emery when I really mean Lucas Torreira. Having a defensive midfielder alongside him frees Xhaka of the pressure of trying to work out when to attack, when to defend and where are our defenders.
The ‘lackadaisical’ Granit can do one, to be honest, and in fairness to Xhaka, he largely has this season. Yes, he surfaces from time to time but few players master consistency to the extent that you forget about games where they don’t turn up.
Elsewhere, Sokratis played for Greece as they lost 1 – 0 to Estonia in a match which was essentially a meaningless friendly with placings already decided. But it helps with the rankings, eh?
We’re heading to the end of the international break, with, I think, Lucas Torreira’s appearance in France tomorrow the last of our squad’s matches. I doubt there’s much prospect of him being released early; a shame he didn’t give Neymar another reducer during the Brazil match.
It’s an interesting scenario in a random train of thought excursion. Yellow-carded, most players of Xhaka and Torreira’s ilk tend to avoid the second caution which leads to dismissal 99 times out of 100. How so? Why pick up an early booking seemingly without good reason? Is it an issue of concentration, much like our inability to start games ‘on fire’?
Whatever the answer, I’m sure coaches wish they could bottle it to have it handy for pre-match injections. All legal; no need to involve WADA although if they come knocking, having a Russian executive may be a useful asset…
When thoughts like that, it is time for the interdull to end. Sadly there’s another 36 hours or so to go…