Nations League: A Reality Check

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 08: The Nations League flag during the UEFA Nations League A group four match between England and Spain at Wembley Stadium on September 8, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Last week saw England play Spain in the newly formed UEFA Nations League. England lost the game 2-1 courtesy of first-half goals from Saul Niguez and Rodrigo Moreno, who scored after Marcus Rashford’s opener. The Nations League’s new format gave us a reality check.

Nations League: A Reality Check

Summer Recap

We all had our fill of international football in the summer when the World Cup was on; a time of great weather, good beer and national optimism. Everyone got into the spirit of the tournament as we all do every four years.

But after England crashed out to Croatia, there was a sense of ‘now we get back to the domestic game’.

Just when the domestic game slowly gets itself going, then the Nations League comes along and deflates all enthusiasm.

Nations League Details

The Nations League, in theory, is a good idea, in giving meaning and importance to all European fixtures.

The larger nations play each other to seemingly prepare for a potential meeting deep in competitive tournaments.

Explaining the Nations League is a complicated thing. I am sure it’s not as hard as its being made out, but to explain it to a non-football fan would be like anyone trying to explain the appeal of Boris Johnson being Prime minister to me (if you can explain, answers on a postcard, please).

England will be relegated to League B if they finish bottom of their group. This would be symbolic in a way, as we have always seen ourselves as an elite nation both in Europe.

Of course, if England did finish bottom and with Spain and Croatia in it, they just might – we would see us relegated.

Could this be a way of Europe subtly reminding us that we are not as dominant as we like to believe we are? Is this tournament the English reality check we didn’t ask for after the summer?

A Reality Check

So, after a rekindling of national pride in England’s performance in the World Cup in Russia over the summer, fans arrived at Wembley wide-eyed and buoyed by the new, youthful Three Lions.

England were give a reality check as Spain proved their class and moved through the gears.

Fans felt like they had a bucket of cold water thrown on them when they were told how much a pint of beer and a hot dog were at ‘The Home of Football’.

As for the game, it started well as all England games do, with them going a goal up thanks to Marcus Rashford’s finish, but after that the gulf in class was massive.

That goal seemed to poke the bear and wake up the Spanish team, as Saul Niguez equalised straight away.

Spain, who had endured a very turbulent World Cup campaign, reaped the benefits of nurturing a deep pool of superb technical players

They responded immediately with all the class, skill and, more importantly, imagination that only a top team possesses. Rodrigo’s goal sealed the game and brought England down to Earth again with a bump.

Reflection

England’s tournament blueprint is normally getting past the group stages by hook or by crook, then beat the teams who are ranked below them but struggle when they play the elite teams or teams who are more technically proficient.

Optimism is a weird thing for England fans; ask the Watford fans who were ridiculed on Twitter for joking about winning the league after success in their opening four league games.

Whereas, after England won a penalty shootout against Colombia in Russia, most fans were planning the parade routes, along with the inevitable knighthoods (Sir Jamie Vardy, anyone?).

This is a young England team but the most alarming concern is the lack of a midfield. Against Croatia and then Spain, it seemed England had brought a water pistol to a knife fight. They lack someone who can control the tempo and rhythm of a game and also have the imagination to play a pass that puts the defence on the back foot.

Out of Tune

England’s performance after the goal was about as inventive as the England band. The version of ‘Whole Again’ by Atomic Kitten was funny the first time around.

Most people in the ground would love to ask the England band if they do requests and the top one would be to leave.

I think that they and the guys who dress as knights for matches are the worst things I see watching an England game.

The positive aspect of England in the World Cup is a memory and trying to recreate it in the Nations League is pointless.

Summary

We remember the songs and the waistcoats from the summer, but that time has gone. Just like remembering your cringy holiday moments doing the Macarena on a table in a bar.

We don’t need to wait for a tournament for failure as UEFA have created the Nations League for us. They have invented a new competition to allow us to experience the feeling of disappointment we feel at the end of a tournament. Except, we can have this kind of a reality check from the comfort of our own national stadium.

At least now, the international break is over and club and European football resumes. Football fans can now get back into their routine; until next month when we go through it all over again

Hopefully, England can learn from this and this might help them as maybe a reality check was the best thing for everyone.

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