A round-up of the UEFA Nations League focusing on the game between England v Croatia, as the Three Lions gain revenge against the team that knocked them out of the World Cup.
It’s good to watch England these days.
It’s not that we are winning (we have now won four of our last five, and 15 of 16 competitive matches at Wembley). It’s more to do with the way we are playing. There is an excitement about the side when we move forward, and it begins with the footballers Gareth Southgate has picked at the back.
If Raheem Sterling can get his shit together, and figure out how to produce the end product with a higher frequency, then the guy could be one of the most feared front-runners in world football. Pickford is a wall. John Stones is the next Bobby Moore.
Look, when we played Croatia in Moscow for a place in the World Cup Finals, people thought that Luka Modric and the boys were running around with artificial hearts. We pummelled them in the first half and then fell to pieces in the second half, allowing the Croats to pinch it.
Luka Modric: the best player in the World Cup?
You’re having a giraffe.
So when the two teams faced each other at Wembley with the rather bizarre fact that the winner would go through to the knockout stages of the UEFA Nations League and the loser would be relegated, I knew, in my heart, that England would not let me down this time.
And they didn’t.
But for a long time, it felt like they would.
If any UEFA Nations League sceptics remain then the organisers should have sent them to Wembley. The place was bouncing. It was the good old days when people would gather around a courtyard to see a masked man bring the axe down on a bad man’s neck.
England nearly suffered the worse start when Jordan Pickford inexplicably chested the ball at the edge of the box, instead of catching it, and Ante Rebić hoofed the ball into the stands with an open net glaring at him.
Croatia wouldn’t get another chance the entire half.
England battered them and should have been a few goals ahead if Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling would have had their shooting boots on.
Then, as is standard when you’re an England fan, Croatia took the lead with their first shot on target. We had played a tad more than ten minutes of the second half when the English defence afforded Andrej Kramaric all the time in the world, and the Hoffenheim striker turned and lifted the ball over the despairing dive of Pickford via the shin of Eric Dier.
After the goal, Croatia could have had a few more, as England raced forward, stinger exposed, seeking retribution.
And then it came in the 78th minute.
Joe Gomez, who was brilliantly assured all afternoon, lobbed a throw-in into the heart of the Croatia defence, Harry Kane poked the ball past the keeper, and substitute Jesse Lingard scored the easiest goal of his life from the goal line.
“They will win this now,” I said to my old man as he wolfed down his cauliflower cheese.
And win it they did.
With nine minutes plus stoppage time remaining, Ben Chilwell delivered a free kick from the left and Harry Kane slid the ball home, his first in seven games, and the crowd went supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Here’s what happens next?
The European Champions Host The First Finals
Italy, Portugal and Poland registered an interest to host the UEFA Nations League Finals, and after Portugal became the first side to qualify from the group that contained all three wannabe hosts, UEFA handed the honour to the European Champions.
The finals take place in Portugal in June.
Here are the dates.
5 June – Semi Final
6 June – Semi Final
9 June – Third Place Playoff
9 June – Final
Joining Portugal and England are the Swiss who topped League A, Group 2 after a stunning 5-2 win over Belgium (Belgium was winning two-nil in that game).
The fourth side will be either the reigning World Champions France or Netherlands. The Dutch only need a draw away to relegated Germany, and they will qualify. If Germany wins, then the French go through.
The knockout stages will take place at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto, and Estádio D. Afonso Henriques in Guimarães. The draw takes place in Dublin at 14:30 (CET) Monday 3 December.
Here are the odds.
UEFA Nations League Winner Odds