Spain and Turkey victories augur well for Nations League's future
Sportblog Nations League Spain and Turkey victories augur well for Nations Leagueâs future
Scepticism and confusion over the Nations League have been overtaken by teams at all levels taking it seriously
A pile-on by the corner flag in Stockholm said it best. Turkey had just come from two goals down to defeat a seemingly comfortable Sweden and, in those chaotic moments a fter Emre Akbabaâs header drifted past a slow-footed Robin Olsen, a full 20 seconds passed before their outfield players disentangled themselves from the jubilant scrum beyond the quadrant.
It was some way for Turkey, so reliably inconsistent, to ignite their Uefa Nations League campaign and it was just as significant for the nascent tournament itself. Akbaba had entered as a substitute in the 62nd minute: in a friendly he would have been one of up to six replacements for his country and probably a footnote as the match degenerated; here he was introduced, as one of Mircea Lucescuâs permitted three, at 2-1 down in a clear attempt to swing the pendulum. The winning goal was his second in three minutes and the scenes that followed it were coloured with the kind of wild, wideâ'eyed joy that few noncompetitive games can replicate.Asensio and SaÃºl inspire new-look Spain to six-goal thrashing of Croatia Read more
As a case study in the new eventâs abi lity to transform previously humdrum affairs, it was unimpeachable. When Uefa collects wider feedback on the Nations Leagueâs opening week, it is likely to receive approving noises. Not every note has been pitch-perfect but the signs are encouraging: an average of 2.9 goals a game across League A and League B, which corral most current and traditional powers, is a particularly good look and suggests a continuation of the positive, engaged football seen two months previously at the World Cup.
In fact such a well-received tournament in Russia gave the new event, which attracted considerable scepticism at the outset, all the impetus and potential for continuing storylines that it could have needed.
Before Spain, playing football of exhilarating tempo and imagination in the final hour, swamped Croatia with a flurry of sublime goals the interest lay in how both parties would respond to summers of such contrasting fortune. After full time mouths were agape at the turnaroun d, wondering at the left foot of Marco Asensio and asking whether a rejuvenated La Roja may rule Europe again. What is more, Spain had kept going until the end. Luis Enrique said his team ânow have to win again against England or Croatiaâ. Hardly words to hold the back page for, and a sentiment that may not actually be the case given their supremacy in group A4, but this was the comforting timbre of tournament-speak: the perpetual looking ahead; the pleasure and optimism of feeling embroiled in a wider narrative.Luxembourg thrive among their peers and can dream of Euro 2020 place | Nick Ames Read more
Those sentiments apply particularly to those further down, where Leagues C and D produced games that were generally tighter and tenser. In many cases they involved teams for whom this kind of pressure and tension â" the thought of a place at Euro 2020 looming large â" had been alien. And everyone had their own reason to cherish the new territory. It would h ave taken a heart of stone not to be moved by the celebrations when Kosovo, likely to be one of Europeâs fastest risers over the next five years, beat the Faroe Islands 2-0 in their first competitive match on home soil and paid emotional tribute to their late FA president, Fadil Vokrri. Meaningful football raises the stakes: when something serious is on offer at the end of the line, every sensation is heightened.
There have still been bumps on the road. Germany and France did not read the script for what was billed as another high-octane encounter, although it is worth noting that even this goalless draw became considerably better as it progressed, improved by attempts from the bench to win it rather than simply shuffle the pack. It is incumbent upon the bigger countries, offered this chance to compete meaningfully, to turn up for these games in order to maintain interest.
That is where the format may yet contain flaws. The three-team groups that make up Leagues A and B may, in some instances, be settled before the November fixtures; it would already take an unlikely set of results for England to overhaul Spain, although the spectre of League B assignments with Finland and Bulgaria in the 2020-21 edition should keep them keen. Uefaâs decision to use head-to-head as a tiebreaker, rather than goal difference, does not help matters in the broader view, even if the freakish margin of Spainâs rout on Tuesday night shows their working. As seen at Euro 2016, head-to-head negates some teamsâ prospects before their final games have kicked off; the Nations League is not sufficiently established to easily absorb a slew of dead rubbers.
It is why praise must come with a few caveats for now. But Uefaâs efforts to reinvent the international calendar could hardly have asked for a more uplifting start. In football, after all, it is th e hope that thrills you.Topics
- Nations League
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