September 25, 2022

Worth noting, as is the Β£30 ticket consecration – although Β£20 was enough and still is.

OBJECTIVE! Greece 2-0 Cyprus (Pavlidis 20)

Greece look set to claim three out of three wins – they top the Northern Ireland group.

OBJECTIVE! Kosovo 2-0 Northern Ireland (Bytyqi 20)

My God, it’s not going well for both Irish teams, and although the North reacted well to going behind, they again conceded when Spencer couldn’t clear a cross, and are in all sorts.

Switzerland win a free kick on the right – Llorente is booked for the foul on Shaqiri who gave it away – and Shaqiri delivers a fine deflected cross at the far post, where Embolo is unmarked! But caught between going to prison and turning back, he completely misses his intervention, supporting himself in the side net.

Soucek shakes Jota, who remains on the ground, but Ronaldo charges on the loose ball, pinches outside his man… and slices a riser into the side netting near the post.

What Switzerland are looking for are balls behind for Embolo. Torres might be able to match him for speed, but he can’t match him for presence, and I’d back the striker one-on-one.

Spain is here in rhythm, the speed of its passages and the intuition of its movement leading Switzerland throughout the show. But the hosts are experts at staying in games and won’t care too much if they’re at a point, especially given the balance of the game.

In Lisbon, Portugal pushes the pace, but haven’t created anything serious yet.

OBJECTIVE! Greece 1-0 Cyprus (Bakasetas 8)

The home team leads the derby!

I think Sarabia was a fraction away, but VAR don’t think so. I don’t know, I don’t think anyone knows anything anymore, and I’m happy to make the decision on the pitch or give the striker the benefit of the doubt when it’s so close.

But was Sarabia offside? VAR is investigating…

OBJECTIVE! Switzerland 0-1 Spain (Sarabia 14)

Spain do very well to win high and Llorente walks the ball superbly, square and Sarabia slips!

OBJECTIVE! Kosov 1-0 Northern Ireland (Muriqi pen 9)

Davis catches Rashica and Muriqi withdraws the penalty!

Vedat Muriqi defeated Peacock-Farrell. Photo: Florion Goga/Reuters

In Geneva, Spain pushes back Switzerland, but when Alba crosses, Sommer confidently recovers.

Portugal get a corner, Guedes curls up… and Stanek is positive, coming out to scratch.

Havel goes behind the back of Bernardo Silva, who is apparently wanted by Barcelona – if De Jong leaves. I’m not quite sure how this works, given that the desire to sell the latter is partly economic and it goes for less than the former would cost. But he’s a great player and I’m sure he would adapt to the way Xavi wants to play.

In Lisbon, William Carvalho of almost every wealthy Premier League club but in fact from Real Betis was booked.

Immediately, Spain fell down the right, forcing Switzerland into touchdown. Andy Hinchcliffe is co-comms and he’s fine, but is there really no one with more information on these two teams?

We leave !

E-mail! “The inclusion of Busquets is indeed cause for celebration of his extraordinary talent (and longevity),” Charles Antaki believes. Morata not so much; more of a resigned acceptance that since the days of David Villa/Fernando Torres, the national team hasn’t really had a truly effective goalscorer. Watch the parade from: Negredo, AlcΓ‘cer, Diego Costa, Aspas, Moreno… I know that even in their 2008-2012 splendor the team tended to only win by 1-0 in the last rounds of competitions, but otherwise the goals were raining a little drizzle these days.

Diego Costa was right, but yeah, it’s a weird thing. As it goes, there aren’t many great centre-forwards anywhere, which is why Man United and Liverpool are battling for Darwin Nunez, although I will say the problems the great Spanish side have had scoring goals were partly because opponents had no choice but to sit back and hope for a counter.

Take out the teams in Geneva and Lisbon.

It’s a shame that Pedri is injured, but I also wonder if a summer break could do him any good. He played a ridiculous amount of football last season and needs to be looked after better than he was. What player he’s going to be; which player he is already.

This is interesting from Rafael van der Vaart:

Van der Vaart: “I’ll tell you why Frenkie is so good in the national team, because he’s the ONLY midfielder with that kind of qualities here and he does what he wants. At Barca there’s Pedri. … Gavi… Busquets… And so on… All of a sudden, he’s starting to adapt again. pic.twitter.com/zEvwzTmZbV

β€” 𝐀𝐅𝐂 𝐀𝐉𝐀𝐗 πŸ’Ž (@TheEuropeanLad) June 9, 2022

Van der Vaart: “At Manchester United it will be like at the national team, being the only one with those kind of qualities. I would move to Manchester United if I was him, do it!” pic.twitter.com/kBmdRW74UA

β€” 𝐀𝐅𝐂 𝐀𝐉𝐀𝐗 πŸ’Ž (@TheEuropeanLad) June 9, 2022

Van der Vaart: “The Premier League is a paradise for midfielders. Everyone says ‘it’s fast!’ but it looks like a quick game because the players lose the ball a lot there. Look at Bergkamp, ​​you can have fun there. I had a lot of fun there too.” pic.twitter.com/2e0Ta9Wd4G

β€” 𝐀𝐅𝐂 𝐀𝐉𝐀𝐗 πŸ’Ž (@TheEuropeanLad) June 9, 2022

However, let’s be realistic, if De Jong moved to England and enjoyed himself as much as Van der Vaart, he would be considered a failure.

I said Portugal don’t have a lot of pace in midfield – they don’t – but they don’t have a lot of pace in attack either. It’s so weird when managers forget that running fast is important – it happened to Arsene Wenger towards the end, when he piled up interchangeable little guys with good technique, none of whom could get out on the outside.

Here is today’s Fiver for your pleasure…

I see that in the UK the Nations League matches are shown on another different channel. It’s almost funny, really, in almost all areas of human activity, choice is a good thing, but when it comes to watching sports, the consumer needs and deserves a monopoly.

Looking at that Portugal team – and their bench – even though they were in a tough group, they really should have done better at the Euros. If Mancini manages them, there’s a good chance they’ll win it, and it doesn’t particularly look like Fernando Santos is about to find the answer. Bernardo Silva is lost on the wing, there must be a place for Bruno Fernandes and there is far too little rhythm in midfield. They should also be good enough to win in Qatar, but they won’t.

I guess that’s a common aspect of genius: simplicity. Roy Keane had a similar trick, proving to be in trouble, pivoting working the outside of his foot around the ball to lose a man. Nobody could help it, and that created the sparkle of the passage that followed.

It’s really something that in 2022 Spain still have Alvaro Morata up front – just like Sergio Busquets is still in midfield. What a player he is and has been, not as celebrated as Xavi and Iniesta, but almost as good as important for allowing them to do what they do. These little Cruyffs turn to get out of trouble, so simple yet so difficult.

Switzerland vs Spain: the teams!

Swiss: Sommer, Widmer, Akanji, Cumart, Rodriguez, Freuler, Aebischer, Xhaka, Shaqiri, Embolo, Zuber. Subtitles: Lotomba, Mvogo, Bottani, Kobel, Frei, Gavranovic, Steffen, Okafor, Dow, Mbabu, Seferovic.

Spain: Simon, Azpilicueta, Llorente D, Pau Torres, Alba, Llorente M, Busquets, Gavi, Sarabia, Morata, Torres. Subtitles: Koke, Rodri, Soler, Fati, Asensio, Olmo, Sanchez, Carvajal, Inigo Martinez, Raya, Garcia, Alonso.

Portugal vs Czech Republic: the teams!

Portugal: Meireles Costa, Cancelo, Pepe, Pereira, Guerreiro, Guedes, Carvalho, Neves, Ronaldo, Jota, Bernardo Silva. Subtitles: Monteiro, Palhinha, Carmo, Rui Silva, Leao, Rui Patricio, Valente Silva, Tavares, Dalot, Fernandes, Moutinho, Machado.

Czech Republic: Stanek, Zima, Brabec, Mateju, Coufal, Soucek, Sadilek, Havel, Lingr, Kuchta, Hloze. Subtitles: Vaclik, Mandous, Zeleny, Pesek, Cerny, Kudela, Kral, Jemelka, Jurecka, Vlkanova, Klavach, Tecl.

Kosovo v Northern Ireland: the teams!

Kosovo: Ujkani, Kastrati, Rrahmani, Kryeziu, Rrudhani, Berisha, Dresevic, Muslija, Rashica, Muriqi, Bytyqi. Subtitles: Kololli, Fazliji, Idrizi, Loshaj, Domgjoni, Zeneli, Bekaj, Sahiti.

North Ireland: Peacock-Farrell, Ballard, Evans, Brown, Spencer, McCann, Davis, Saville, McMenamin, Lafferty, Lavery. Subtitles: Thompson, Southwood, McCalmont, Charles, Boyd-Munce, Carson, Lane, Bradley, Whyte, Donnelly, McGinn, Charles.

Preamble

It’s an incredible thing to say, but after decades of trying, UEFA finally came up with a decent idea, and the Nations League did. Yes, it came far too late to prevent the international fixture from being devoured by the club version, but it at least saved us from the perpetual purgatory of international friendlies and the 59,037 substitutions that came with them.

So it’s that on a Thursday night in June we actually have some football worth watching, our target is League A Group 2. Currently Portugal are top after drawing against Spain by beating Switzerland, but their visitors tonight, the Czech Republic, have four points too after edging out Switzerland and also taking a point from Luis Enrique’s men.

That aside, we’ll be keeping tabs on Kosovo v Northern Ireland and Sweden v Serbia, and we’ll update you on any goals as they happen. Direct!

Kick off: 7.45pm BST