Who will win the Nations League?

Following the back of England’s most successful World Cup since 1990, we have to now turn to the future and ultimately where the current crop of England stars will be strutting their stuff next year.

Southgate and the English Media team managed to create a feel good vibe with this young cohort of players. This was backed up through stellar performances, before and after the World Cup. Recent highlights include a 3-2 win over Spain and the 2-1 win over Croatia last week. But can we go all the way in the inaugural Nations League final?

As we are aware, the four teams who have reached the finals to be as follows: Switzerland, Netherlands (Holland), Portugal and England.  Out of these four teams, three reached the World Cup and showcased their class on the largest stage of them all. The first of these is…

Portugal 

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Portugal finished top of their nations league group, consisting of Italy and Poland as a result of two wins and two draws which secured an unbeaten qualification. This follows on from a less than impressive World Cup in which they scraped through the group after nearly facing humiliation from Iran in the last few minutes and then being dumped out by a lacklustre Uruguayan squad. In order for them to succeed in this tournament, they will need to place faith in youngsters such as Renato Sanches and Gonçalo Guedes who will be turning 22 at the tournament start. They need to start preparing for life after CR7 and taking the next step. They have got an ageing squad with key players such as: Pepe, Jose Fonte and Rui Patricio all 30 or above. Defensively, they may struggle with that rearguard.

In order to combat this, I fully expect them to draft in players such as Ruben Semedo and Ricardo Pereira to help keep them up to date and up to speed with the modern game. In all honesty, I would be very surprised to not see this team reaching the final. Back in Portugal they are widely expected to win the tournament with players such as Nani (Remember him) and even Eder expected to pull through and perform if CR7 isn’t there. However, I believe they will go into their first game too confident and be picked apart through a counter attack or a free kick. Thus I see them under performing again and needing to improve before Euro 2020.

Prediction – Semi-Final loss

 

Switzerland 

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Switzerland defied the odds in order to finish top of their group following a 5-2 dismantling of the best Belgian side in living memory. They finished top of their group after 3 wins and 1 loss, however 2 of these wins they scored 5 or more with the Iceland game being a 6-0 rout to the Swiss.   In order for the Swiss to go the distance on a level they have never done before they will need to be able to put their past performances behind them and focus on the task at hand. Their best previous results were Quarter finals at the world cup on 3 occasions and a round of 16 finish in the Euro’s in 2016. With their current team they have a youthful team with only 2 players at the age of 30 or above with these being Stephen Lichensteiner and Timm Klose who are both defenders. Their current stars are players such as Xherdan Shaqiri and also Granit Xhaka who are playing for Liverpool and Arsenal respectively. The current team is one in which they are able to play on the counter and punish any team for a slight mistake with ruthless precision as seen with Haris Seferović getting a hat-trick against Belgium.  In all honesty, this is a team in which they have already gone further than expected after topping the group with Belgium and Iceland. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if they can pull off one more shock before being brought back down to earth in the final.

Prediction – Finalists

 

Netherlands (Holland) 

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The Netherlands just last year were arguably the largest of all international teams laughing-stock. A team who reached the world cup final in 2010 and a 3rd place finish in 2014, failed to qualify for the world cup. Arguably one of the best footballing nations had fallen to rubble and were looking a shadow of their former self. Players such as Van Persie and Robben were no longer cutting the mustard and Sjneider was no longer the player he was.        However since Ronald Koeman has become manager of Holland, they have become a force to be feared again. He has rejuvinated the squad and culled the dead wood by replacing them with younger and more hungry players who love to play for the country and are proud to do so. Similar to Switzerland, they have one player over 30 who is Ryan Babel.    It also appears that they have got a really well-rounded squad with players such as Matthijs de Ligt and Donny van de Beek looking like players capable of leading the team in future or reaching upwards of 100 caps.       Following the announcement of a group with Germany and France it was clear they are favourites to go down. Yet they managed to beat the World Cup winners and also Germany who sadly (not sadly at all) have appeared to have replace them as the deadwood of Europe and have been relegated.         Overall they are looking like a very strong side, however I believe that whoever they face in the semi-final will beat them through mistakes made by a young side.

Predicition – Semi Finalists

 

England 

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Finally we come to England. In my lifetime, I have never seen England’s national team like this who have managed to not only rejuvenate themselves, but also the public opinion of them. Players such as Harry Maguire captured the hearts of a nation with affectionate nicknames such as ‘slabhead’ and making them seem like normal blokes who are just playing football as they love it. Previously, players such as Cole, Lampard and Terry were seen to be playing past their sell-by-date in order to just increase their cap total and earn extra from bonuses through their club. Now, we have players such as Ben Chilwell, Harry Kane and Jessie Lingard who were all told they wouldn’t make it at the top-level, and yet now are playing for their country.  Following topping a group of their betters in the world cup, Croatia, and a very strong Spanish side they are looking at being favourites for this tournament. With the most recent team who were called up to face Croatia/Usa, the oldest player was Fabian Delph at 29. Admittedly, Ashley Young is 33 and is typically called up but he appears to have hit a second wind in his career after reinventing himself as a wing back. With our U21 team unbeaten in 22 games, the future looks bright at last for England. I fully expect us to win this tournament following a world cup which made the people believe again.

Prediction – It’s coming home 


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