Success of Uefa Nations League the only surprise as workaday England outclassed by Spain

By On September 09, 2018

Success of Uefa Nations League the only surprise as workaday England outclassed by Spain

It is not likely that the England football captain would be using words after a friendly as strong as “bottled it” to complain about a refereeing decision.

So Harry Kane’s anger about Danny Welbeck’s disallowed late goal against Spain at Wembley at least taught us one positive thing: the new Uefa Nations League is a good idea.

The game looked and felt much more valid and alive than all those dreary, empty kickabouts that international football served up for so long in between qualifying games. < /p>

The game also reflected the true pecking order of the European game with the Spanish far better than England despite the summer’s advance to the World Cup semi-finals.

A while back, England occasionally beat such nations in friendlies. France were defeated in 2015. Germany in 2016. Even Brazil were held to a draw in Rio a year before the 2014 World Cup. But it’s never a proper standard to work from; this was more real.

The same lively atmosphere had been prevalent when Wales played Ireland at the Cardiff City Stadium last Thursday, even if the result ended up as a one-sided 4-1 victory for the home side.

So at last, having diluted the once-flawless European Championships beyond all recognition, Uefa have got one right. This works. All those sniggering suggestions that it’s all far too complicated to make any sense look juvenile and cheap now.

It isn’t complicated. Four groups of three play each other twice and the group winners go to the semi-finals. Those within the game who have expressed bafflement ought to know better as professionals.

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Usually, on friendly evenings, there is a flood of substitutions after half-time â€" diluting any vague sense that the proceeding might be in any way meaningful.

This time, England’s first replacement did not occur until the 53rd minute and it was one enforced by the head injury suffered by Luke Shaw. Only three subs are allowed so t hat helps maintain competiveness, too. Both teams used all three but there was never any idea that that the game was drifting to a vapid conclusion, which has so often been the case on non-competitive occasions.

England’s disgruntlement over Welbeck’s disallowed goal underlined that point. The incident happened in the 96th minute as the hosts desperately tried to get something out of the night, with a place in a four-team mini-tournament at stake next summer.

The other salient point from England’s first competitive defeat at home since Croatia won at Wembley in 2007 was the evening’s reminder that wh at Gareth Southgate achieved in Russia was a big over-achievement rather than a permanent re-elevation of England to international power.

It is a mystery why anyone should be surprised that Spain dominated possession and looked smarter and more thoughtful and purposeful.

The BBC called it a “brutal reality check,” but Southgate had been under no illusions.

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England are pro gressing under his command but it remains his best achievement yet that he grasped the nettle and devised a way of playing in Russia that made the team better than the sum of their parts.

That, alone, represents a sea-change because most of his recent predecessors â€" particularly the foreign ones â€" had contrived to make the team far less imposing than their collective status as the so-called Golden Generation suggested they should be.

England lacked creativity at the World Cup but made up for it tactically. The fact that the nation lacks a player of flair and vision who might change this didn’t stop the chorus of wishful thinking wondering if there might be one out there somewhere.

There isn’t. That Southgate’s team were playing Spain â€" who produce such men off a production line â€" always made it likely that this glaring problem for England would be made particularly apparent.

Still, let’s get over it, shall we? Let’s accept that Southgate at least has a plan to get the best out of a group of players who would largely be considered workaday at the elite level of the international game.

And let’s recognise his sanity, his level of thoughtfulness and his plain common sense for attempting to find a way around this situation.

(Getty Images)

Next up is a friendly against Switzerland at on Tuesday. After the refreshing improvements brought about by the Nations League format, it won’t be as frustrating if the game at Leicester reverts to the usual pattern of friendly nights. There has, after all, to be time for experimentation, too.

Then come two away fixtures in the new competition with a trip to Croatia on October 12 followed by the return against Spain in Seville on October 15.

The game in Croatia will be an oddity because it must be played behind closed doors following the daubing of a Swastika on the pitch in Zagreb before a World Cup qualifier against Italy in 2015.

It could still offer more reality as well, however. Croatia beat England in the World Cup semi-final because they were a far better team with far better and vastly more seasoned elite level players.

Some bemoaned a return to familiar failings by England â€" of a carelessness in possession and a return to long ball tactics as the game wore on.

That happened because the Croatians were far superior, not because England lost sight of what they wanted to do. They just couldn’t do it against a much better team. And frankly, football is sometimes just that simple.

So if Southgate achieves an improvement in Croatia next month it will mark another small step forward. As Spain reminded us on Saturday, realistically that is about all this football nation ought to be hoping for.

Source: Google News Spain | Netizen 24 Spain

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