UEFA’s silly little Nations League exercise, a desperate attempt to add some meaning to the otherwise meaningless waste of time known as international friendlies, has actually, against all odds and narratives, managed to produce a fair bit of drama in its final weekend of group games. Turns out that having groups of three (or four) teams play home-and-away matches gives just enough sample size to keep things sensible (than, say, a single-elimination cup format), but also ensure that there will be plenty of pro-rel drama. Whether any of that is actually meaningful is up for debate, but it’s certainly better than random friendlies.
There was England’s rousing comeback against Croatia on Sunday, with the World Cup finalists getting relegated from League A and the Three Lions booking their place in the semifinals.
There was Switzerland’s rousing comeback against Belgium also on Sunday, with the World Cup third-placed team collapsing from a two-goal lead to lose 5-2 and thus miss out on the last four.
And then there was the Netherland’s rousing comeback last night against Germany, with two goals in the final five minutes rescuing a 2-2 draw and, combined with their shock defeat of World Cup champions France last week, earning them the fourth and final spot in the Nations League championship playoffs. (Portugal were the first to qualify from the rather weak Group 3.) Chelsea’s Antonio Rüdiger played the full 90 for the Germans, who have continued to disappoint since their disastrous World Cup.
So, the first ever Nations League final four is: Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal, and England. The draw to determine the bracket will be made on December 3rd and the final tournament will take place in Portugal in early June.
It’s coming home?
With one more matchday to play, there are a few promotion and relegation spots left to be confirmed in the lower leagues, but here’s what we know heading into today.
Group winners: Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal, England (enter semifinals of trophy tournament)
Relegated to League B: Germany (!), Iceland, Poland, Croatia
Promoted to League A: Ukraine, winner of Sweden vs. Russia (draw favors Russians), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark
Relegated to League C: Slovakia, Turkey, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland
Promoted to League B: winner of Scotland vs. Israel (draw favors Israel), Finland, Norway, probably Serbia (could be Romania if Serbia lose to Lithuania today)
Relegated to League D: Estonia, Slovenia, Lithuania, either Cyprus or Montenegro depending on how badly Montenegro do against Romania
Promoted to League C: Georgia, Belarus, winner of Kosovo vs. Azerbaijan (draw favors Kosovo), Macedonia
Worst of all teams: San Marino, League D Group 2 — 6 played, 6 losses, 0 points, 0 goals, 16 conceded.