Two wins out of two, six points out of six, ten goals for and just one against and a four point lead in the group already, so England are finding the going tough in their Euro 2020 qualification group then!
As I pondered on this page last week (https://football-nerd.org/2019/03/22/football-nerd-weekly-ramblings-international-break-boredom-var-creates-an-un-level-playing-field-and-orient-one-step-away-from-wembley/), one wonders what strange logic anyone in UEFA is using that has led them to conclude that we clearly need eight rounds of meaningless qualifying matches?
The only major surprise from England’s matches was that somehow 82,000 people were convinced to attend Wembley for the game against the Czech Republic. Although England’s rebuilt popularity is probably still a positive legacy of another summer of football love in this country, given the success in Russia and then in the subsequent Nations League’s more meaningful games.
A quick scan across all of the qualification groups reveals a fairly predictable picture even at this very early stage, hell even Scotland managed to get themselves back on track beating the lowest ranked team in the FIFA rankings, San Marino, although not overly convincingly by all accounts!
For several years now the powers-that-be in world football, namely UEFA and FIFA, seem to have been pursuing a vision of inclusion and participation rather than real genuine competition. While we can only speculate that the motivation behind this is financial and/or vote-winning, the impact is the ongoing dilution of the international game. International football tournaments are not the Olympics Games, they aren’t supposed to be about involving all nations, they are instead designed to determine the best team on the continent and in the world.
The whole rationale behind shaking up the international game between finals tournaments and the introduction of the Nations League was reportedly to reduce the number of meaningless games, and to an extent it did that. So why then, before it has even been completed, revert to the same old format for qualification for the Euros? Is there anyone in their right mind that would suggest that England v Holland on the 6th of June for a place in the inaugural Nations League Final is not a far more intriguing prospect than the two comfortable wins we have just witnessed as well as Bulgaria and Kosovo at home in the next qualifiers in September?
The problem it seems is that no one is prepared to admit that there is a level of team that will never be at a high enough standard to qualify for a major tournament, as well as others who may be good enough to qualify sporadically but will never actually challenge. The notion of structuring the UEFA membership into divisions seemed to me to very much be along the right lines, so why not use that as the basis for qualification for the Euros/ World Cup?
There were twelve teams in each of the top two divisions of the Nations League, surely a better system would see these countries playing each other to determine the finalists in a smaller tournament would be much more interesting than the current set up? The other thirty-one teams could play in a separate competition with a limited number; say four, promoted to replace the worst performing teams in the top division after each qualifying cycle. Greater quality and the top teams playing each other on a regular basis through qualification and into the finals would seem like the only logical way for the international game to develop. In that case don’t expect it to happen any time soon!
Of course the end of the final international break of the season means we can all go back to concentrating on the proper stuff, the competitions that really matter to us as football fans. Although for us Gooners we have to wait until Monday given that our ‘pivotal’(sic) game against Newcastle has been selected for Monday Night Football.
The clash of the weekend pits Liverpool against Tottenham at Anfield on Sunday afternoon. Spurs’ recent run of unconvincing form may have seen them formally throw in the cards on this season’s title push, but they are still capable of causing any team a problem with the firepower they possess. Assuming that Manchester City manage to avoid coming a cropper at seemingly doomed already Fulham in the Saturday lunchtime game, the pressure will be well and truly on Jürgen Klopp and his charges to avoid ceding any more momentum in the title race.
In the news that surprised a grand total of no one, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was confirmed as the fourth permanent Manchester United manager since Sir Alex called it a day. While the Norwegian’s impact since his arrival on an interim basis is undeniable, it could also be argued that a large part of his success has been founded on ‘not being Mourinho’.
Time will tell if this relatively inexperienced manager is sufficiently robust to handle the elements of the role from which he has been largely shielded thus far, specifically: the work in the transfer market to improve a squad that needs some significant attention, the need to stamp his own authority, identity and playing style on the team rather than leaning heavily on the traditions of the club and the way that the Fergie used to do it, and handling the humungous egos of those players who continue to underperform. It was this latter issue in particular that seemingly did for his predecessor.
Whatever happens this weekend and over the remaining seven weeks or so of the season, it is great to have proper football back.