There is no doubting that the UEFA Nations League has brought some much needed interest and competition element in replacing what was a series of mundane and relatively meaningless international friendlies, with the tournament now reaching its climax, as the four ‘Group A’ divisional winners, being England, Holland, Portugal and Switzerland, fight for the inaugural title of Nations League champions and a prize fund of €6 million.
Here, we preview the two semi finals and how the four teams have got to this stage:
SEMI FINAL 1 : PORTUGAL v SWITZERLAND (5th June – Porto)
Portugal topped their group (Group A3) containing Italy and Poland, going unbeaten in their four games – winning two and drawing two, their 1-0 home victory over the Italians being the decisive result. They will feel fortunate that they were selected as the host nation for the final knockout stages, and will hope that home advantage, and the more than lions share of the support, will spur them on to victory. As always, all eyes will be on one certain Cristiano Ronaldo (above), who has been his usual imperious self in his debut season in Italy’s Serie A for Juventus – but equally as always, there will be doubts on his supporting cast and whether they have the quality and consistency to back up their super hero – on and off the ball. For that said, Portugal have lost only one of their last 15 games in all competitions – their World Cup exit in the last 16 at the hands of Uruguay. But, they have drawn 9 in that time also, leaving you wondering exactly where Portugal are at right now.
Switzerland, for their part, will come into the game as underdogs, but having a quiet confidence about them – despite having a poor record against their semi final opponents. The have faced Portugal eight times in all competitions and not won in any of them since their win in a World Cup qualifier in April 1969. But the Swiss impressed in qualifying for a semi final place, coming out on top of what looked a tough group (A2), playing off against Iceland and Belgium. It was a winner take all showdown at home to Belgium in their last game and it looked bleak when going 0-2 down after just 17 minutes. But the Swiss regathered and put 5 unanswered goals past the bemused Belgians to take the group in a win every impressive as it sounds. Haris Seferovic (above) notched a hat trick in this game and he will be leading the line for Switzerland – and used to the surroundings, currently plying his trade for Benfica. The Swiss team are well organised, disciplined and quite underrated – and they could just give their more illustrious opponents a real fright.
We see this game as a real war of attrition – likely being won in Extra Time or even via the dreaded penalty shootout – and we see SWITZERLAND prevailing…..just.
SEMI FINAL 2 : ENGLAND v HOLLAND (6th June – Guimaraes)
English football is currently riding the crest of a very large wave. Fresh off the back of an exciting World Cup adventure, the 2018/19 European domestic club tournament finals were filled with English teams – Liverpool beating Tottenham Hotspur to win their 6th European Cup/Champions League, whilst Chelsea thrashed Arsenal to lift the Europa League Cup. Coach Gareth Southgate has brought a youthful exuberance to the England National team, who raised more than a few eyebrows in dispatching Spain and World Cup Semi Final conquerors Croatia in their qualifying group (A4). Losing at home to Spain and drawing in Croatia in their first two games left England with a mountain to climb, but climb in they did, beating Spain 3-2 in Seville and then coming from behind to beat Croatia 2-1 at Wembley, with late goals from Jesse Lingard and talisman Harry Kane (above) clinching the winners spot. Optimism is fast over taking the usual pessimism amongst England fans, who will be well represented for this fascinating clash with the Dutch.
Holland meanwhile came through the ultimate Group of Death (A1) – beating off France and Germany to win the Group – two goals in the last five minutes to snatch a 2-2 with Germany being enough to clinch top spot on goal difference from World Champions France. After the massive surprise and disappointment at missing out on the 2018 World Cup, Dutch football has once again burst to life, with the National team now being coached by Ronald Koeman, who took over the reigns from much maligned coach Dick Advocaat. The mighty domestic Dutch side Ajax also enchanted fans, with their youthful team winning the Dutch Eredivisie, and making the Champions League semi finals, dispatching Juventus and Real Madrid along the way, before losing out to Tottenham with the last kick of the second leg. Boasting the likes of Liverpool Champions League winning heroes Virgil Van Dijk (above) and Georginio Wijnaldum, as well as rejuvenated attacker Memphis Depay, Holland could well return to their former glory days very soon.
This game has all the makings of a classic – two pacy, attacking teams full of youth and enterprise, but with fine mentalities and ever growing confidence. We again would not be surprised to see this game go into extra time, but feel that momentum is just with ENGLAND to prevail, maybe the odd goal in three.
Portugal 1 – 1 Switzerland (Switzerland to win on penalties)
England 2 – 1 Holland
THE TWO LOSING SEMI FINALISTS WILL MEET FOR A 3RD/4TH PLACE PLAY OFF ON SUNDAY 9 JUNE (15:00), WITH THE TWO WINNERS MEETING IN THE FINAL ON SUNDAY 9 JUNE (20:45)