Why the UEFA Nations League has already accomplished its main mission
The international break is a unique time for football fans throughout the globe, one where complaint normally takes centre-stage. Meaningless friendlies do not receive much overall attention, and the UEFA Nations League wanted to put an end to that mindset. Only half-way through its first season, it has already succeeded.
This past weekend saw Portugal and England qualify for the final four of the tournament, with the Three Lions earning a thrilling 2-1 result on Sunday versus Croatia. It was a match that could’ve been scheduled at any point during FIFA windows, the type of exhibition game that would’ve been perfect following their semi-final encounter at the World Cup.
However, in that kind of environment, the high level of passion and significance would not have been achieved. England were within one goal of being relegated in the Nations League, but Harry Kane’s strike in the final minutes was ultimately what placed them in the final four.
UEFA wanted to inject some life into a portion of the calendar that brings more groans than celebration, the sense of importance that usually only a summer international tournament will provide. The 2018 World Cup in Russia was a fantastic competition, featuring plenty of surprises and spectacular play on the pitch. Euro 2020 will likely have similar scenes. But what will fans do until then? The Nations League has answered that question.
Wembley Stadium was buzzing as Gareth Southgate’s squad engineered a magnificent second-half comeback versus Croatia, and it reminded many of the type of thrill that can come with club football. Germany and Croatia were actually relegated, as odd as that phrase sounds at first.
An opportunity for truly competitive matches
Many of the biggest nations were not often utilising international breaks to really test themselves, taking an opportunity to use their influence and prestige to set up cash-grab exhibitions. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but it does not necessarily bring about games that players and managers completely care about. Fans are simply going to feel the exact same way.
Perhaps coaches will not bring in the best players, and starters will be subbed off at half-time. Instead, the Nations League has made it mandatory for teams to show up and be ready for a battle. Yes, it is a bit odd that friendlies will be mixed in with the Nations League fixtures, though this is still an upgrade.
For teams below “the top flight” such as Ireland and Wales, similar positives have been seen.
The UEFA Nations League was confusing in some ways, and still is depending on what you need to know about it. But one thing that has not been confusing has been the excitement surrounding the matches, and maybe now we’ll hear less complaining during international breaks.