England’s UEFA Nations League Success Worthy of Celebration
June 4, 2019
Modern day England fans have known nothing but misery and despair when watching their national football team. Disappointment is the most accurate term to sum up the Three Lions in the 21st century, as despite the high hopes laid out by supporters, the players have always fallen short of expectations.
This mindset has, however, shifted under the leadership of Gareth Southgate. Last Summer’s World Cup may have ended in eventual heartbreak for the Three Lions, but they captivated the spirit of the nation and got fans believing again.
After reaching their first major European semi-final since 1990, the team’s momentum hasn’t stopped there. Now, heading into the Nations League, England are 2/1 with 888sport to finally get their hands on a piece of silverware.
Last summer’s World Cup hit an all-time peak for England supporters. For many, it was the most enjoyable time to watch the Three Lions, as they gained results from playing with a free flowing and fluid system. There was, however, the question as to how they would fare on the back of the competition and whether the wheels would fall off.
These fears were heightened after Spain’s victory at Wembley last September, with the Red Fury nicking a 2-1 win in the opening game of group 4. This result proved to be nothing but a little hangover though, as England have since responded with 6 victories from their last 7 games.
The real turning point came in the reverse fixture at the Estadio Benito Villamarin. After a blank draw in Croatia, the Three Lions desperately needed three points on the home turf of the ex-World Champions. As we have learnt from Southgate’s side though, this group of players fears nobody. The dynamic duo of Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford fired England to a 3-2 victory, of which they found themselves 3-0 up inside just 39 minutes.
It is this explosive style of play that has contributed towards England’s impressive run recently. They have remained loyal to their attacking philosophy that pays heavy emphasis on their frontmen’s freedom to roam around the final third. After finalising qualification at home to Croatia, they topped off celebrations with a 5-0 and 5-1 victory over the Czech Republic and Montenegro.
Finding goals is not an issue for Southgate’s men, as the squad is filled with a variety of attacking talents. Sterling has been the team’s main talisman this year with 4 goals in 2 games, with Harry Kane closely behind in the picture. The preparations have been all but perfect, and they will need such firepower to overcome the Netherlands.
Tough Test to Come
At 11/4 with Unibet, Holland’s outside price might surprise fellow Nation League punters. They have only lost 1 of their last 6 games and booked their place in the semi-finals through victories over the last two World Cup winners in France and Germany.
England fans will be familiar with their star players, as the likes of Memphis Depay, Georginio Wijnaldum and Virgil Van Dijk have been instrumental in guiding the Netherlands through. The Flying Dutchmen now have their sights set on their first international trophy since 1988 and there is little to suggest that they will be fazed by England.
Their midfield three is as robust and energetic as they come, with Marten de Roon and Frenkie de Jong shielding the space behind Wijnaldum. The two at the back don’t come much more resilient either, in the shape of Matthijs de Ligt and Premier League player of the year Van Dijk. Such a defensive shape will be structured to shut England out, so expect a close affair this Thursday night.
Going forward, their pacey wide men will aim to expose the space in-behind England’s wing-backs. Southgate likes to operate with Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose holding the width to support the midfield men, so the likes of Quincy Promes and Ryan Babel in orange will aim to bombard the flanks with inside runs. Both teams have clear ability in the final third, so it could come down to a clash between who is most clinical on the day.
A Trophy Is a Trophy
When the Nations League was announced, there was a little confusion surrounding what exactly the tournament is and what it stands for. Given that this is the first running of the competition, such questions are yet to be answered. However, a trophy is still a trophy, and England haven’t lifted a major piece of silverware since the World Cup in 1966.
Would Harry Kane holding the Nations League trophy eclipse the iconic image of Bobby More and the World Cup? No. But two wins this week would be a fitting reward to a team that have worked relentlessly on a dedicated system for the past two years. The progression of this side has been clear for all too see and fans finally love tuning in to witness England play.
There is a feeling of optimism, not dread, when the Three Lions step out onto the field and the whole nation should continue to rally behind Southgate’s men this Thursday evening. Can they go all the way? It will be a cause for celebration if we do so.
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As an experienced sports writer, Josh has been published across various different platforms, writing about his beloved club Manchester United and other footballing topics. He also covers a range of other sports, specialising in UFC and Formula One.