If there is one positive thing that can be said ahead of tonight's game, it’s that the public are going to find out what an authentic Nations League clash is all about. The tournament, which is so new that this is only the second edition, sees a nation crowned champions of Europe every two alternate years when there are no Euros or World Cup. In my opinion, it offers two interesting new features – it is played during FIFA international windows which were previously used for friendlies and also ranks European football in order, so it does away with those friendly games which were played as warm-ups before the Euros and World Cup – friendlies which too often were between nations of vastly contrasting abilities. This new model gives an incentive to all of the national teams who might not be battling to win the trophy as they can move up a group or at least fight not to go down to the next one.
The Nations League, a new, shorter format
Of course, it doesn’t have the same tradition as the European Championships, which is played every four years and starts with a long and fairly boring qualifying round but makes up for that with a thrilling final tournament which last a whole month and captures the imagination of the public across the continent. The Nations League format is different, it’s shorter, but the winner (Portugal won the first edition) is the team which ends fair and square above all of the others in an ordered system. Also, with teams being promoted and relegated during the group stage, it throws up some very interesting encounters. Tonight’s is one good example of that – Spain host Germany needing to win to make the Final Four.
Luis Enrique questioned
Meetings with Germany have always been special, whatever the occasion. This one comes at a time when there is a certain impatience brewing with our national team. Luis Enrique is still trying out players and tinkering with the side in key areas such as the goalkeeper’s position and in attack. Not that he is a newcomer in the post himself – he arrived two years ago, only briefly making way for his assistant to take over when he was dealing with personal issues. He may view some aspects of the team being just provisional for the time being but it’s difficult to see that going on for very long. At the moment, he has players who are pushing for a place but there is still something lacking at both ends of the pitch; the team has the habit of switching off and new faces are continually coming in and out of the side. Tonight’s game is a good moment to get a good result and prove the doubters wrong.