Hats off to Uefa for attempting to give international friendlies more of a competitive edge – even if it may appear that you require a masters degree in Pythagorean theorem to understand the concept of its newly-formed Nations League.
With much fanfare following its launch after this summer’s World Cup, we were informed that the Nations League would carry weight towards qualification for the 2020 European Championships.
That was cue for a period of mourning among England fans after it was announced that the Three Lions had been subsequently drawn in a group containing 2010 World Cup winners Spain and Croatia – who of course finished runners-up to France in Russia ’18 this summer, beating Gareth Southgate’s men at the last four stage.
Now it’s my understanding – and forgive me if I’m wrong – but the Nations League does not provide any direct entry to or elimination from Euro 2020.
Instead it gives teams a chance to boost their seeding for the qualification stage as well as providing an automatic play-off berth for any country finishing top of their respective group.
In effect it provides a safety net for a team which enjoys a fine Nations League campaign but subsequently ‘messes up’ during the Euro qualification process.
It’s certainly worth England’s while trying to finish on top of their respective group even if Spain currently hold the slight upperhand.
If nothing else, the Nations League concept has provided some drama and meaning to games which otherwise would probably be dreary, non-event international friendlies.
The anger within the England camp concerning Danny Welbeck’s disallowed ‘equaliser’ in the opening game against the Spanish at Wembley last month was apparent for all to see.
And there was certainly a bit of flak flying Marcus Rashford’s way after his costly misses denied England victory away at Croatia on Friday night.
There was some redemption for Rashford on Monday night in Seville as he and Raheem Sterling tore Spain apart in the first half.
The 3-2 victory over Luis Enrique’s men has been hailed as one of England’s finest performances in recent memory and you would struggle to disagree.
Full of attacking verve and pace, England’s victory came against a real quality footballing side in a proper, competitive encounter.
The win has given Southgate’s men a real opportunity to finish top of the group and who knows...become the inaugural Nations League champions when the ‘grand finals’ take place in June next year.