The business end of the Nations League

Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford, pre-flight to Portugal. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters


Fiver readers of a certain age and nationality will remember Turnabout, a daytime BBC TV quiz show that was as ludicrously complicated as it was utterly compelling. Despite nobody involved, least of all its host – erstwhile Football Weekly stand-in Rob Curling – appearing to have any idea what on earth was going on in its Sphere, Palindrome, Star or About Turn games, the show ran for 239 episodes across eight series and all involved seemed to have a very nice time. More recently, in their own attempt to put an end to the kind of meaningless friendlies that have long been the scourge of international football, Uefa introduced its own similarly complicated competition and called it the Nations League. Since its inception last year, England have played four games and advanced to this week’s finals and now stand on the brink of winning their first trophy since 1966 without, one suspects, many of their fans and possibly even players having even the foggiest idea why or how.

Not that any of that matters as we approach the business end of the competition, as things couldn’t really be simpler. It’s semi-final time with Switzerland taking on Portugal in Porto on Wednesday, before England face the Netherlands in Guimaraes on Thursday, before Sunday’s final and third-place play-off. Flying off to Portugal, having welcomed the England internationals who contested last weekend’s Big Cup final back into the group, Gareth Southgate will address the press there later on, which means that by the time people read this he’ll have already answered questions such as “Any knocks?”, “Will Harry Kane start?” and “Were he, Dele and Eric upset when Jordan, Trent and Joe wore their winner’s medals down to breakfast?”

Worryingly, in their absence, Marcus Rashford has been holding the fort and said there is unlikely to be any sour grapes between the two sets of players. “It doesn’t matter whether you play for Tottenham or Liverpool or whoever,” said the striker who clearly wasn’t involved in Madrid. “While we’re here that doesn’t matter at all. We’ll battle for each other. That’s what’s special about this group, because that transition to international football seems to be very smooth. [Gareth Southgate] always says to us: ‘When you’re in camp we want you to enjoy yourself.’ He wants it as close as it can be to how it is at a club.” Unless that club happens to be the one Rashford plays for, one hopes, where at least half the first-team squad are surplus to requirements. “Basically it’s like your club, where you’d fight for the person next to you,” Rashford added, without laughing. “It’s the exact same thing here.” With that in mind, England fans are advised that Sunday’s third-place play-off kicks off in Guimaraes at 2pm BST.


“[He] was our biggest international football leader of all time, no Swede has had a similar influence on football in the world. He was deeply respected as Uefa president and vice-president of Fifa, his leadership has aroused admiration worldwide” – the Swedish FA’s Karl-Erik Nilsson pays tribute to Lennart Johansson, who has died aged 89.

Lennart Johansson, pictured in 2010. Photograph: Petr Josek Snr/Reuters

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