UEFA NATIONS LEAGUE ROUND-UP
Croatia shows us the good and the bad…
Croatia hosted Spain and had to win to stand any chance of qualifying from this group in what was arguably the best game of the Nations League. Twice they went ahead, twice they were pegged back by a resilient Spanish side. Tin Jedvaj, a substitute left-back on the night, scored twice and scored the all important winning goal. The Spanish team seemed to have turned a corner but have lost twice on the trot now (ironically by the same score-line). Luis Enrique’s job does not look so easy afterall.
Three days later, the Croats were hosted in Wembley by England and had to win to top the group. Again, they led, but could not hold out for the 90 minutes, Harry Kane popping up with a late winner. The World Cup runners-up showed glimpses of their pedigree in the win over Spain but also faltered by conceding two late goals against England. Truth be told, it was not an easy group but the 6-0 mauling by Spain early in the tournament was a huge wake-up call for the team. Croatia finish last and get relegated.
England digs deep…
With every game, the England team keeps getting good. Kramaric should not have had so many touches in the box before getting his shot for Croatia’s first goal in Wembley but overall, the English took full advantage of set-pieces (and long throw-ins) to come from behind, win the game and ultimately top their pretty tough group. Impressive stuff.
No way out for Die Mannschaft..
Bottom of the group in the World Cup in the summer, now bottom of the group in the Nations League, Germany cannot seem to get out of a rot that has been growing for over a year. This time, Mesut Ozil cannot be blamed. Admittedly, against a resurgent Dutch team who had just rolled over the World Champions, the Germans played one of their best competitive games in recent memory. The downside is, for some reason, they could only manage that performance for 85 minutes. Football lasts for 90 minutes (the last time we checked) and in 5 minutes, the Germans uncharacteristically let a 2-goal lead slip from their hands and went home with a draw.
What next for the German team and Joachim Low. It looks like qualification for the Euros may not be straightforward.
For the Dutch, they have dug deep after failing to qualify for two major tournaments and Ronald Koeman seems to be working miracles in the squad. So many young talented players have been given chances to shine and even a 50-year old Ryan Babel has been impressive in the last couple of games (he is actually still 31, after all these years). It is highly unlikely that they will miss the next major tournament train.
The Swiss show they are no pushovers…
Against the third-placed team in the World Cup (Belgium) over the summer, the Swiss turned on the style. After going two goals down thanks to a brace from Hazard (the other less popular one), the game seemed to be over. Switzerland had other ideas and scored five goals afterwards thanks majorly to a hat-trick from Haris Seferovic. The Belgians seemed very porous in midfield and at the back especially considering the fact that Vincent Kompany was marshalling the defence. Hazard (the other one) and co. were disappointing but it seemed like Lukaku was missed in this match. Hindsight is a beautiful thing.
The Italian team still a work in progress..
This current Italian set-up is still adapting to the gradual changing of the guard: From Buffon to Donnarumma; De Rossi to Veratti, and so on. Against Portugal, the team showed plenty of promise but were unable to get a goal against and impressive Rui Patricio. The story could have been different had Ciro Immobile been able to bury the early chance presented to him. This Italy squad is still a work in progress and credit to Roberto Mancini for his willingness to bring in young, fresh and bright players instead of just sticking to the old guard.
For Portugal, currently, without Ronaldo, the set-up still seems to remain the same: soak up pressure and hit on a counter. It was enough to still see them top their group. Still, we know that a team without Ronaldo is an entirely different football team, just ask Real Madrid.
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Posted by: Abiodun Motunrayo
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