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Granit Xhaka on the Losing Side as C. Ronaldo Blitzes Switzerland

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Source: Getty Images

The end of season paves the way for some international football without disruptions which allows nations to feature their best talent in their respective bids to win the competitions they are registered in. It seems like eons ago, but many were skeptical about the UEFA Nations League tournament but following some brilliant matches as well as some good organization I must say, we are down to the last four of the inaugural tourney as Portugal took on Switzerland in front of a capacity crowd with a chance for another European final.

Just three years ago, they went to France and grabbed home the European Championships, even though the hosts were overwhelming favorites to go home with the trophy. Three years on and Fernando Santos side, led by their inspirational captain, Cristiano Ronaldo, locked horns with a Swiss team led by Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka. The Swiss might not be world beaters but they have held their own well in recent matches, since their Round of 16 exit in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. They left a lot to be desired with their defending when they gave up a shock 3-0 lead against Denmark to draw 3-3, but they were fully aware of the threat Portugal would pose, especially with the likes of Ronaldo in their ranks.

We didn’t wait to long to see the Swiss net bulge as Ronaldo stepped up to dispatch a well taken free kick that left Yann Sommer rooted with no chance in Hell. The usually reliable Manuel Akanji struggled alongside Fabian Schar, as Portugal continued to barrage the Swiss with waves and waves of attack. The Swiss had some good chances of their own with Xherdan Shaqiri clean through on goal but Rui Patricio was on hand to make a point blank save. Haris Seferovic, that plies his trade in Portugal, had a glorious chance as well, but his effort smashed the wrong side of the cross bar and went over.

Our darling VAR wasn’t going to be left out, as it was used to determine a penalty that was awarded to Switzerland when Nelson Semedo was adjudged to have pushed Steven Zubar. Rui Patricio guessed right to dive in the direction of Ricardo Rodriguez’s penalty but he was really disappointed to see the ball creep under him to level the contest for the Swiss. It wasn’t against the run of play as Switzerland had been giving Portugal a run for their money in what I’d regard as a balanced game.

We never want to see any of these professionals suffer any injuries but it wasn’t a pleasurable sight for the experienced Pepe, as injury forced the hand of the gaffer to bring on Jose Fonte. Good job by Ruben Neves holding the fort while Pepe was being treated. For such a technical metronome in midfield, he wasn’t half bad in the few moments he served his nation as a make shift center back.

Image result for xhaka yellow caRD PORTUGAL

Source: Getty Images

For a player that picked up 14 yellow cards across four competitions last season, it was no surprise to see Granit Xhaka in the book again, when he tried to swap jerseys with Bernardo Silva. I guess he couldn’t wait till the end of the game.

With extra time looming, I was wondering whether there was going to be a match winner in regulation time but as the saying goes, ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man‘ and Portugal’s main man, Cristiano Ronaldo, delivered once again, arriving late in the box to fire in a near post piledriver from B. Silva’s cut back. Sommer was nowhere to be found when Ronaldo’s free kick embarrassed him in the first half but conceding that way in his near post was really questionable. Ronaldo certainly wasn’t done with the proceedings as he rolled back the years with some fancy footwork late on before blasting a trademark drive to the bottom corner.

90 minutes played, one chance created, 91% pass accuracy, 29 accurate passes, 49 touches, 10 duels, three attempted dribbles (all successful), five shots and most importantly, three goals scored. If that’s not a Man of the Match performance from Ronaldo, then I certainly don’t know what that is.

Commiserations to Granit Xhaka and his proud nation that reached the semis of the UEFA Nations League, but it was all about Cristiano Ronaldo, that has guided his nation to yet another final.

Sayonara.

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Ighalo: The Man on Fire and German Football on an All Time Löw

Joachim Low.

The thing about international football is that you can choose to really concentrate on watching each game, or you can do something else and just listen to the commentary in the background. I never pass on a chance to play my beloved Football Manager 2018 (can’t wait for FM 19 to come out next month) or more recently, Uncharted: Lost Legacy on my PS4, but I looked at the fixture list and decided to focus on two games – Libya vs my Nigeria and of course, France vs Germany.

With the Libya vs Nigeria game starting by 7.00pm local time and the France vs Germany starting by 7.45pm, I figured I’d combined both games while enjoying some of that FM goodness. Just before I could get settled into the Libya vs Nigeria game, the red hot Odion Ighalo stepped up again with another well taken goal following some good passing interplay from Alex Iwobi and team skipper, Ahmed Musa. That was Ighalo’s sixth goal in his qualifying fixtures – a brace away at Seychelles, a hat-trick at home to Libya and of course, the match opener in Sfax, Tunisia, against the same side.

Ighalo turned from scorer to provider when he teed up Musa at the edge of the area, but the Saudi-based winger still had a lot to do as he danced his way past some Libyan defenders before scoring the most scrappy finish you’d ever see. Knowing fully well that South Africa were playing a Seychelles side they spanked 6-0 over the weekend, Nigeria sure needed every kind of goal they could get. Taking a 2-0 lead into halftime would have been very ideal in the grand scale of things but knowing African football, there were more surprises around the corner, and that happened when Libya pulled two back but Ighalo was on hand to score his sixth goal in three matches to give Nigeria all three points.

Elsewhere, Joachim Low and Germany are still struggling and one must wonder how they can get out of this slump. Following a disastrous World Cup, Germany was still the top seed for the UEFA Nations League and were paired with France and the Netherlands, but it has turned out to be a disaster as Low’s side has lost two games in the group, as well as a poor draw at home to France.

They sure managed to end the rot of not scoring in three games with Toni Kroos penalty but it wasn’t enough as Antoine Griezmann stepped up the plate to put the Germans to the sword.

I hope they can come out of their current predicament as they are still regarded as one of the best footballing nations but things aren’t just working out for them at the mo. Really Sad

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England’s Triumph and the UEFA Nations League Explained

Image result for sterling spain

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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