The uefa nations league is brilliant because it has made international football relevant again. And no country is benefiting more from this outstanding evolution than England.
Make no mistake, the UEFA Nations League is here to stay and redefines the club versus country debate.
— England (@England) November 19, 2018
Gone are meaningless friendlies – not counting the exception of Wayne Rooney’s return against the USA which was more akin to a Testimonial. In their place we have a well thought out competition where every match means something.
Last month’s thrilling 3-2 win for England in Spain was one of the best internationals we had seen outside a World Cup and European Championships in living memory.
Yesterday’s dramatic 2-1 fightback to conquer World Cup finalists Croatia at Wembley was even more significant as this young England team continue to show we really can fulfill the outstanding potential of Gareth Southgate‘s youth inspired revolution.
England semi finals 🏴 :
— Online Sports Blog (@osportsblog) November 19, 2018
Overturning the stunning setback of Croatia’s opener from Kramaric just inside the hour, Southgate’s young Lions were roared on to victory when Jesse Lingard levelled 12 minutes from time, and skipper Harry Kane joyously struck a glorious late winner.
Snatching victory from the jaws of a defeat that would have meant relegation from the elite group, victory catapults England into the semi-finals of this inaugural competition.
But this was much more than the result. This was an England side with no fear, explosive pace to get behind quality opposition and the confidence to release the handbrake.
As a Manchester United fan it was doubly revealing to witness the crucial roles of Marcus Rashford and his pal Lingard, who made a big impact when he was sent on by Southgate in a bold game changing double substitution with Jadon Sando.
Lingard’s crucial clearance that denied Croatia a second goal to re take the lead was just as priceless as his equaliser. Mostly a fringe player with his club side this season, the midfielder from Warrington once again excelled for his country.
— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) November 18, 2018
Like Lingard, Rashford has looked more impressive playing for England and was so exciting charging forward with pace. Even supporters who put club before country will see the value of the Nations League when it breathes confidence into players who have not been able to shine for whatever reason in the domestic game.
Another star performer for England in the Nations League has been Manchester City’s Fabian Delph, disproving the theory that he’s been made to look better than he is when surrounded by quality playing for the Premier League champions every week.
Raheem Sterling, despite missing more chances, has seen his reputation and relationship with the fans improve under the guidance of this modern, forward-thinking setup making the most of this new opportunity.
England are not the only country who are seeing the obvious value of the Nations League.
2-0 down 📉😕
5-2 up 📈🤩
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) November 18, 2018
The format may at first glance look complicated. But the concept is simple and effective.
Well matched groups within Leagues – with promotion, relegation and the carrot of a qualification route to upcoming European champions is genius. It’s given international football the look and feel of a club competition. And therein lies the attraction.
You only have to look back at England’s previous stunning victory over Spain for further evidence of that. To see Gareth Southgate’s team destroy Spain 3-0 in a rousing first half was as unexpected as it was spectacular. Watching the Spaniards fight for their lives after the break in a desperate attempt to preserve their 15 year unbeaten home record was TV gold – and that is the key to why this competition has a bright future. It’s made for television.
Other stand out highlights so far that illustrate the appeal of the Nations League include the joy we saw when Gibraltar beat Armenia to register the first international win in their history.
How amazing that this format has given relevance and a much-needed competitive edge to internationals for the minnows, who were previously cannon fodder to make up the numbers.
Holland – who missed out on World Cup qualification – head to Germany tonight (Monday) knowing a draw or a win would see them leapfrog France, and seal their place in the last four of the Nations League finals next June.
Germany, meanwhile, will drop down to League B having collected just one point from their three games so far. How delicious is that for England fans after so many years of hurt at the hands of the old enemy since our triumph of 1966.
There is no question that club football still reigns supreme. The Nations League is no substitute for the Champions League – not any time soon at least. But the gap between club and country has well and truly been narrowed.
— England (@England) November 19, 2018
For players who are not regulars with Europe’s elite clubs, here is a new opportunity to shine on an international stage that is both competitive and appealing to a global TV audience.
Equally, it offers the game’s biggest European stars a platform to showcase their talents that is much harder to ignore than a meaningful midweek friendly.
It will take time for this new addition to an already busy schedule to be fully accepted. Nonetheless, this is a permanent fixture I believe we will grow to love.
Victory over Croatia builds nicely on England’s win over Spain, the likes of which we had not seen since Sven Goran Eriksson’s so called golden generation smashed Germany 5-1 in Munich seventeen years ago.
Against Spain, two superbly taken goals from Sterling either side of a belter from Rashford were all beautifully constructed. This time Lingard and Kane are the Heroes.
England’s football fans enjoyed the euphoria of reaching the 2018 FIFA World Cup semi finals in the summer without defeating any of the giants of world football. Since then Southgate’s men – led magnificently by Harry – have proved they can indeed go toe to toe with the best in the world. And that is priceless.
— Man Utd The Religion (@ManUnitedTV) November 18, 2018
Forget England’s empty goal less draw in Croatia in the reverse fixture of today’s thriller. All that playing the match behind closed doors as punishment for Croatia’s fans proved is that football is dead as a TV spectacle without a passionate crowd.
Many other nations league matches have been played in front of half empty stadiums and that is a challenge the organisers must overcome for this tournament to really take off. Maybe the answer is to let kids in for free because football is nothing if there is no atmosphere in the stadium.
Combine a meaningful competition with a crowd that connects with its heroes and you have a winning formula. Welcome to the nations league.