Five things we learned from the first international break of the season
Written by: Tushaar Sachdeva
New La Roja manager Luis Enrique kicked off his international coaching career with style.
Post-Russia 2018, the first international break came with a bang. The results were unpredictable and the goals were terrific. But, the main highlight was the introduction of a new tournament, the UEFA Nations League. The competition is a league of European national teams. It has been formed to make these international breaks much more interesting and competitive.
While the teams from other continents were playing friendlies, UEFA's new competition was much more serious as the results would decide the qualification spots for the upcoming UEFA Euro 2020.
However, with the players now heading back to their clubs, we look at the five takeaways from this international outing:
5. Fresh faces turn their ships around to winning ways
After the Round of 16 eliminations of Spain and Argentina from the World Cup, the former World Cup holders went through managerial changes. Although questions were asked about their respective appointments, but the nations delivered with better contrasting performances than the ones in Russia.
The 2010 World Cup winners were knocked out by hosts Russia at this year's tournament and post the commotion, Luis Enrique took over at the helm. The La Roja had some tough fixtures but proved their mettle under the former Barcelona manager. Their first game in the Nations League was against World Cup semi-finalists England and the second against runners-up Croatia. But, the La Roja did not take long to absorb the tactics of the former national team midfielder.
Watch: England 1-2 Spain highlights
A 1-2 win over England and a 6-0 thumping of Croatia is a testament to Enrique's impact and ironically, he yielded these results from the same squad who could only win a single game at the World Cup.
Meanwhile, in Argentina, Jorge Sampaoli resigned from his job and Lionel Scaloni, his assistant at the World Cup, is now their caretaker manager. His first assignments were undertaken without superstars Lionel Messi, Angel di Maria and Sergio Aguero, and yet the team produced the desired results. A win against Guatemala and a draw against Colombia.
4. Are Italy and the Netherlands two sides of the same coin?
Italy have a tough group in the Nations League with Portugal and Poland, both teams that the Nerazzurri failed to beat this past week.
The Italian team is in turmoil. They failed to qualify for the World Cup, won their last competitive game over a year ago against Albania and certainly do not have the depth in their squad. Roberto Mancini was appointed as their new head coach and has a challenge on his hands. It was not just about the results, the style of play was defensive and their incompetence in the final third was visible. The only goal Italy scored was through the penalty spot.
Whereas their North European counterparts, the Netherlands, are no different. They too won their last competitive game last October, could not board their flight to Russia and are in transition just like Italy. Ronald Koeman, their fourth manager since 2014, looks clueless.
He does not have the squad strength, the stars of yesteryear have retired, with few suitable players to replace them and he finds himself in the Nations League Group A with France and Germany. The pressure will mount in the future,
3. The USA makes history
The footballing and political rivalry between the USA and Mexico goes back a long time. The Latinos always have been above the United States, they have dominated their English-speaking counterparts since long. However, in this international break, the USA beat Mexico for the first time in a competitive match since 2013.
Overall, Mexico are way ahead of the USA, with 34 wins, 15 draws and 19 losses between them.
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2. Gareth Southgate is still the man but...
Since long, England have suffered due to the club rivalries on the international front. Gareth Southgate did what many managers before him failed to do, he united the players, made them a team and they performed really well at the World Cup. But, what cannot be ignored is the fact that they have failed to shine against worthy opponents.
They lost to Croatia in the semi-final and to Belgium twice, first in the group stage and then in the Bronze medal match. The misery was not over, in the aftermath of the tournament, as they played Spain in their Nations League opener and yet again they lost 1-2.
1. Are Croatia still in the World Cup hangover?
Croatia just lost a single game in the World Cup and that too the crucial final, but it seems that they have now lost the flair. They opened the international break on a dull note. Facing a Cristiano Ronaldo-less Portugal, they took the lead in just 18 minutes, but their leaky defence cost them the game. Through a Pepe header, Portugal equalized just 14 minutes after conceding.
Watch: Spain 6-0 Croatia highlights
The highlight for most of the fans all over the world was their thrashing by Spain. A game which ended 6-0 to La Roja.
Published: Thu Sep 13, 2018 01:07 PM IST