UEFA Nations League

Has there even been an idea as more pointless and unecessary from a  football governing body? I guess not and never will….don’t be silly of course there is. Not only do UEFA wish to kick this tournament off in 2018, but FIFA are looking to expand itthey intend on inviting nations from other confederations. Why? Why look to expand a competition that has not even kicked off yet.

The tournament will be the third competition for European nations and will see four sports for the Euro 2020 finals, most likely going to the lower nations in the European football family. The idea is to replace all the meaningless friendlies that take place inbetween the International qualifiers. The games will be played between September and November 2018 and the final four in the following summer.

There will be four leagues A-D with Leagues A and B containing 12 nations, League C containing 15 and League D containing 16. Each League will be split into four divisions. There will be promotion and relegation between each division within the leagues with the winners of each division playing for the opportunity to stake an early claim for a Euro 2020 finals place.

The competition will have 6 match days starting in September 2018 Match Days 1 (6-9) and 2 (9-12) with Match day 6 between 18-20. The finals taking place between 5-9 June 2019. This means that nations will also have a chance of taking it easy in the qualifiers if they have already especially as the Euro 2020 qualifiers will run from March 2019 to March 2020.

The format has been highly criticised as it gives a means of allowing the lesser European nations who would not usually stand a hope in hell of qualifying, a spot in the finals. Not only that teams who had already been knocked out of WC 18 qualifiers a chance to purposely lose games in order to drop down into the lower league and have a better chance of qualifying. Are lesser nations really worthy of taking places in the finals? Not really. We only have to look at the standard of some of the nations that make it to the World Cup finals.

The reality of it all in a way of course is money. These games will no doubt get tv coverage advertising and other commercial opportunities as it rolls into the European Championship qualifiers. If they really wanted to end pointless friendlies then they could easily just restrict the number of International weeks outside of the qualifying rounds.

With the introduction of the European League, it will surely reduce the opportunities for non European nations to play European opposition, it is quite possible that there could be regional competitions and even no doubt a lower nation World Cup featuring all the nations that couldn’t win in the proper one as we all know that where there is a competition there is a money opportunity. They could probably trying and build up San Marino v Malta, but we all know that would be a tedious borefest.  I’d rather go watch an Ismithan League game

I won’t be looking forward to one little bit, I’m sure not many others will especially when there will be clubs concentrating on European competition and wanting to keep players fit and available.

 

 

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Euro 2016 Last 16 review

The group stages were finally over and it was down to the finer points of tournament football, yes that’s right the knockout stages. With the expanded tournament and four best third place nations joining in on the fun, we would see some interesting matchups and first time records.

Kicking off the knockout stages were Switzerland and Poland. This one seemed like it was always going to be a tight affair. The Swiss managed only two goals as did their opponents. Their defence was even stingier with only the Swiss conceding a single goal out of the two nations, so it seemed inevitable that the two sides would end up going to penalties after seeing one of the goals of the tournament.

Wales and Northern Ireland came face to face in a game where one home nation would be guaranteed in the quarter finals saw a quiet start but then the game got going when the tackles flying in. Gareth Bale was not as busy as he was previously, but it just took one moment for him to make impact and he didnt even score. His cross put pressure, with Kanu-Robson waiting in the centre, on McAuley who in trying to deny the Wales player, could only put it in his own net. It was a terrible way for the Irish to go out having contributed so much, but that is how the game goes.

Croatia faced a Portugal side who looked like they could be there for the taking. Croatia looked like the dark horse of the tournament, whilst Portugal were grateful for the expansion of the group stage qualifiers as they finished third. Sadly though for what seemed like a potential game of the tournament, it turned into a dour affair where the game entered into extra time. The stats showed a disappointing reflection of the match. Croatia had 17 shots and none on target.Portugal had 6 shots and two on target of which one came in the form of the winning goal in extra time. Ronaldo too was also below par again. Whilst Poland only won on penalties, Portugal will have to be better prepared when facing an unpredictable Poland side.

France came back from an early set back to beat the Republic of Ireland. The Irish took an early lead through a penalty and held the lead to half time. The lack of firepower would sadly be the downfall of the Irish. The goal would be the only one of the six that they would get on target. The French however would bounce with two quickfire goals leaving the Irish rocked. The final to Irish hopes would come just a few minutes later when they were reduced to 10 men following Duffy’s red card. Irish eyes may not have been smiling but at least they could go home with some pride.

Germany faced Slovakia  in a game that showed England’s scoring issues when they took apart Slovakia with a 3-0 hammering. The World Cup holder were in fine form and really should have been more. An interchangeable line up dominated possession having just over 60% but unlike other nations they converted that possession into shots and goals. A total of 21 shots with 7 on target. The Germans nette through Boateng, Gomez and Draxler and based on this performance, they look like sure fire favourites.

The pitiful opening performance from Belgium seems a very long time ago and they showed in this last sixteen tie against Hungary that they should not be underestimated although to be honest had the Hungarians taken their chances when it was 1-0, they might have made it a little more difficult for the hotly  tipped Belgians. They shall go home with some pride and positivity as they look towards the Russia 2018 qualifying campaign.

In what was to be an unexpected big nation tie, defending champions Spain fell to a second defeat in a row. Spain seemed out of sorts for a team looking to defend their title and had it not been for David De Gea, it could have been the reverse scoreline from their Euro 2012 final match up. It seems that it could well be the end of the dominant Spain on the international front and when the second goal went in to finish off the game the faces of the Spanish players said it all.

They say about leaving the best till last and they certainly did…from an Icelandic position. England were taking on Iceland in what should have been a win albeit a narrow one. Sadly it was the same old story and an embarrassing exit. Apart from the penalty England barely turned up. We saw Sterling start, misplaced passes, goalkeeping blunders, Harry Kane taking free kicks.

Fair play to the Icelandic team who have impressed and taken the tournament by force. French fans beware of what may come.

Football Flashback – 15th June

With Summer not playing ball as it should be (any wonder why it’s really called ‘Flaming June’), lets take a look back to possibly sunnier summers and June 15th in years gone by and see what delights were brought to the world. These will of course be all the ones I can remember starting with World Cup 86 in Mexico.

The World Cup was lucky to be held in Mexico as not long before, the nation had suffered an earthquake. Despite that, the competition went ahead. It started towards the end of May, believe it or not. Would never happen now, but by mid June, the finals were at the knock out stage. Mexico 86 was a good tournament all round and there were plenty of goals and Belgium ensured they weren’t going to miss out. They faced the Soviet Union who had netted 9 in the group stage. Belgium themselves had netted 5. I guess with two nations with a taste for goals it would hardly be of much a surprise that there were seven goals in a game that went to extra time. Having gone 1-0 and then 2-1 up, the Soviet’s might have been thinking of progression but a goal in each period of extra time from the Belgians meant that the only joy that the Soviet’s saw was Belanov bagging a hat trick.

The tournament in Mexico saw all but Wales reach the finals and only England progress out of the group stage. We of course all know what happened in the Quarter Final against Argentina.

In 1988, World Cup finalists, West Germany hosted the European Championships. Back then it was just two groups of 4 nations with the top two taking part in the semi finals. The finals competition that featured West Germany,Italy, Spain, Netherlands and England amongst the front runners,  did not see a single sending off, a 0-0 draw or any of the knock out games go into extra time or penalties. Quite an achievement not to see the likes of West Germany and Netherlands battle it out with no sendings off, although the game will be remembered for the spitting incident.

For England it was a tournament to forget. Having been drawn alongside the USSR, Netherlands and Republic of Ireland, the work was certainly cut out. Having previously lost to Ireland in the opener, it was not a game against the Dutch. A game that would look ok after Robson levelled for England, the Dutch magician Marco Van Basten would have other ideas and would bag himself a hat trick. The Oranjemen would find themselves winning the only major tournament in their history to date an no doubt enjoyably in their ‘enemies’ back yard.

Italia 90 saw the World Cup that saw few goals but quite a number of red cards. Come the 15th June 1990, it was still group stage and the only action in this day was to see some the group where the number of goals bucked the trend. West Germany in their final tournament before unification netted 5 against the unfortunate United Arab Emirates. The West Germany scorers list showed something more akin to a whose who of footballing great. Rudi Voller bagged two, along with a certain Jurgen Klinsmann and Lothar Matthaus. Later in the tournament West Germany would face England and the start of the inevitable penalty shoot out defeats would begin. It would also be remembered for Gazza’s tears in the semi final.

Scotland would find the 15th June a date to forget as they were up against World Cup winners West Germany. The Scots could have really upset the applecart in this group. The went into the final game only requiring a point to make the next round. A simple task for most nations…except if you are Scotland and having to play West Germany to progress. The Scots lost 2-0 and went home. England failed to progress under what was Turnip Taylor’s first and only competitions finals. England having drawn 0-0 against Denmark (included due to the international situation with Yugoslavia) and against France, had to get a result against Sweden. England who had been robbed of various players through injury before the tournament, lost against the hosts in a game that was to be Gary Lineker’s last international game and replaced by Alan Smith.

The World Cup in 1994 wouldnt kick off until 17th June, although some might wish it never kicked off at all. Brazil won on penalties after a 0-0 draw.

Ah yes Euro 96 was next, now that was a Summer of football sun and nerves. Not only that but the cult hit Three Lions was echoing around the stadiums. The competition was in England and had seen a bit of controversy involving the England squad and Paul Gascoigne….surely not. Anyway 15th June 1996 saw England face Scotland, the auld enemy and what a game to be had. The sun was out, Wembley was full the fans hopeful. After a goalless first half, Alan Shearer broke the deadlock in the first ten minutes of the second half. The game seemed to edge ever closer towards a single goal win and then Seaman committed a foul and gave away a penalty. The then Arsenal goalkeeper made amends by saving the penalty from Gary McAllister. Moments later and England are on the attack and Gazza receives the ball chips it over Colin Hendry and bang, ball in the back of the net 2-0 game over. England would win the group with a 4-1 pasting of the Netherlands in the final game. The single goal from the Netherlands would prove crucial as it would deny Scotland progressing into the knock out stages.

So to France 98 and another release of three lions reworked for the World Cup. England and Scotland made the short trip across to France. A warm sunny day in Marseille saw England kick their campaign off. A relatively easy group for England. Only Tunisia, Columbia and Romania…ahem to deal. England opened with a win against Tunisia with Paul Scholes finishing the scoring with a goal one minute from the end. This World Cup would be the tournament that saw England make its damned hardest to actually not progress.

Not much happened in Euro 2000. It was wet miserable awful and that was just the England performances. We did however beat Germany 1-0. France won the tournament with a golden goal win against Italy. What they should have called it was the anti climax goal.

So to World Cup 2002 in Japan and South Korea. A tournament to be enjoyed…unless you were French, Argentinian, Portuguese. These three nations failed to get to the knock out stages. The 15th June was proving to be a good day for England. This time round it was the first knock out stage and a tie against the Danes. The Danes had topped their group whilst England had laboured to second after a second group draw, this time against Nigeria. There would be no slacking in the knock out round. The Danes who had looked like being a threat to England, found themselves turfed out with a 3-0 defeat. England of course would go out in the next round after Brazil beat England 2-1 with Seaman being lobbed on the line (Stop it you filthy lot).

Now if there was a competition for nations making it completely difficult for themselves, England would be record holders. It was Euro 2004 this time and England who thankfully avoided the playing on the 15th, stole defeat from the jaws of victory. England had taken the lead against France in the first half, but with the matter of a few minutes remaining saw France bag two goals in the 90th minute including a penalty. England managed to progress only to lose to Portugal on yes you know what. Having lost Rooney through an injury in normal time, the game saw extra time and then penalties. Mr Reliable David Beckham took England’s first and when he slipped and missed, it kind of summed things up.

World Cup 2006 saw England make it easier on themselves in the group stage and even recorded a win on the 15th, but alas could still not beat Sweden as they were held to a 2-2 draw. Like Euro 2004, England faced Portugal. Like last time Rooney was involved, this time he was sent off and England lost the penalty shoot out….You expected something else?

Euro 2008, no England, no real shocks. France disappointed and Spain started their international domination beating Germany in the final.

World Cup 2010 saw Fabio Cappello guiding England down in South Africa. The 15th June saw New Zealand open their group with a 1-1 draw against Slovakia whilst disappointment would reign supreme for Italy who picked up a solitary point. Controversy would come in the England match in the knock out. Lampard seeing his shot cross the line only for the referee to miss it entirely. Apart from that it was a cracking world cup which saw a fantastic game between the Netherlands and Uruguay.  The winners would be Spain after beating the Dutch by a single goal in the final.

Euro 2012 saw England feature in the finals again. Another joint held tournament saw goals a plenty England win on the 15th AND beat Sweden in a finals tournament. Who would have expected that. Surprises were to be had in the tournament. The Dutch who had looked like world beaters in the World Cup, finished bottom of their group without a win. France who had previously struggled saw themselves finish second behind England. A 2-0 defeat in the final group game costing them top spot.

Of course where you get the surprise, you also get the quelle surprise. England faced Italy in the knockout round. It finished goalless although Italy could have won in normal time. It went to penalties. Having seemed like things might change when England went 2-1 up, that’s as far as it went as Young and Cole both missed their penalties.

So there we have it June 15th is reasonably good for England and the home nations to be honest…Hang on what about World Cup 2014? Well some things are best left forgotten.

And so that brings the end to the Football Flashback, keep an eye out for another one coming soon.