England’s Triumph and the UEFA Nations League Explained
Just like me, many folks haven’t gotten the full hang of this UEFA Nations League tournament but I use it as a good opportunity to watch some quality international football, as European nations field their best sides with the aim of qualifying and avoiding relegation (yes, I’m still confused on how it works but bleh).
Ok, there’s Wikipedia right. Aha! It says that there are four leagues (A – D) which are assigned based on the UEFA national teams coefficients but from this tournament, things are going to change. “League A” serves as the elite league in the competition with each league having four groups of three teams each. The winners of each of the groups in League A qualify to the Nations League finals, which is a semifinal clash between the four group winners of League A, while the last placed teams in League A are relegated to League B, with their places taken by the four group winners in League B. Same way there are promotions and relegations in League C and League D.
Germany for instance, were the highest ranked team in the competition with a coefficient of 40,747, so they were the seeded team in Group 1. The other seeded teams in League A were Portugal (38,655), Belgium (38,123) and Spain (37,311). This meant that they were going to be paired with Pot 2 League A teams like France (36,617), England (36,231), Switzerland (34,986) and Italy (34,426). The teams in the League Pot 3 were Poland (32,982), Iceland (31,155), Croatia (31,139) and the Netherlands (29,866). From these 12 teams, four groups of three teams were formed.
Thanks to Germany’s recent shitty form, they are currently last in their group behind France and the Netherlands which essentially means that they can be potentially relegated to League B, even though they still have a home clash with Holland and an away clash with France to go. Two League A teams have confirmed their relegations to League B, with Iceland suffering three defeats and a whopping -10 goal difference from their clashes with Belgium and Switzerland as well as Poland, whose last gasp defeat to Italy in their home turf sealed their fate. So this essentially means that we will not see the Viking clappers and Robert Lewandowski’s cohorts till they get promotion from League B in the 2020/21 season.
Now that you’ve gotten the drift of how the UEFA Nations League works, let’s talk about last night. Or wait, let’s step back a bit – remember when Spain made a 1,000 passes against Russia and still crashed out on penalties at the World Cup? Or when their then manager, Julen Lopetegui, wanted to literally eat his cake and have it? The nation that has given so much to the beautiful game was a far cry of the dominant force they used to be. Suffering elimination at the Round of 16 stage of both the World Cup and European Championship was not something you’d associate with Spain but the appointment of Luis Enrique as the head coach was certainly a step in the right direction.
In his first two matches of the Nations League, he defeated England in their coveted Wembley ground and made light work of the World Cup finalists, Croatia, so when the Three Lions arrived in Seville for their second leg clash with Spain, confidence was certainly high from the home team.
What we witnessed, in the first 45 minutes at least, was a masterclass from England that coincided with a shitefest from Spain. Marcus Rashford found Raheem Sterling at the edge of the area with only David de Gea to beat and the Manchester City forward finished aplomb with a belter that left the Manchester United goalie flat footed. This was followed by a lovely Rashford goal that came to fruition from a lovely Harry Kane pass. De Gea again was found wanting as his Man Utd teammate dispatched the ball past him with consummate ease. Two goals became three when Ross Barkley’s dink over the top to Kane was laid on a platter for Sterling to allow him score his second of the night and put England three goals up in Andalusia. The home crowd were certainly stunned as you’d expect but I can’t take anything from what was a brilliant England team performance.
The second half saw Spain go for broke and who would blame them? Losing 3-0 at home wasn’t going to go down well with the Spanish faithful, so the boss summoned the red hot Paco Alcacer and Dani Ceballos to contribute to an attack that was barraging England. Gareth Southgate’s response was to bring on Kyle Walker and switch to a back three. I wasn’t really convinced by Walker playing as a center back in the World Cup but my only managerial experience is at Football Manager level, so I can’t really question a man that finished in fourth place in the World Cup, can I?
Anyways, Alcacer reacted well to a beautiful Marco Asensio inswinger and Jordan Pickford couldn’t do anything to save such a lovely header. It was just 3-1 and certainly not enough. The onslaught from the home side continued that English lads put up a valiant show at the back. Finally, they cracked in the 97th minute from a Sergio Ramos header, but it was also the last moment of the game as the Polish ref blew his whistle afterwards. A largely entertaining game in every sense of the word.
This result put England with two points behind Spain, and it’s now evident that Croatia holds the key to the destiny of that group. Luka Modric’s army have two games left – against Spain and England, and if they win both, they will finish the group in an astonishing seven points, above Spain that has six and England with four. However, if Spain manages to get a draw against Croatia, they will relegate them to League B and earn a place in the semifinals.
No pressure lads.
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