Forget Squid Game, Nations League is No 1 for brutal international drama | Soccer


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

With The Fiver having been distracted by uncaring Conservatives [a tautology, surely? – Fiver Ed] cutting universal credit and tyrannical regimes moving into Tyne and Wear in recent days, we thought your fifth-favourite tea-timely football email had better earn its Tin by giving you a rundown of the actual action you might have missed in recent days. Because, hey, that’s kind of what we’re here for, right? Oh. Anyway, somehow the Nations League semi-finals took place in midweek. We’re not sure how we got to the knockout phase of the tournament because, quite frankly, in the malevolent fog of the past year we don’t recall the six (subs, please check) group-phase matches that Uefa managed to shoehorn into a fixture list so nonsensically busy it resembled Infinite Jest.

But here we are. On Wednesday, Spain served up a large dollop of revenge to Italy as Ferran Torres played one-man headers and volleys to secure a 2-1 win that ended the Azzurri’s world-record 37-match unbeaten run in men’s international football. As is the way with the Nations League, everything about the tournament suggests it should be about as exciting as Granny Fiver’s tripe stew. It has rules that only a Uefa lawyer can understand. A final in October. A trophy that doesn’t spring to mind. And a name that makes it sound like a bad Marvel movie. Yet despite all this it just has a knack of dishing up that rarest of things: vibrant international football.

Take last night for example, when France roared back from 2-0 down to beat Belgium 3-2 with a display of attacking football so thrilling that Weird Uncle Fiver is currently trying to download it to his brain to jumpstart his serotonin. Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé and Paul Pogba played with the kind of swagger they keep hidden at their respective clubs, while Romelu Lukaku thought he’d wrapped up victory only for VAR to rule his goal out just minutes before a Theo Hernández thunderbolt sealed it for France. Forget Squid Game, the Nations League is top of our pile for brutal international drama. And you can watch the final gripping episode on Sunday when Spain’s terrific tyros take on France at San Siro.

And what about the first-ever group games in Women’s Big Cup? On Wednesday Chelsea used up a year’s worth of defensive howlers in one night yet still didn’t lose to Wolfsburg, coming from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 in injury time thanks to Pernille Harder turning up fashionably late to salvage a point. Meanwhile, Barcelona showed their men’s team that not every footballer wearing the famous strip is a shambling shadow of their former selves. The European champions left Arsenal’s verbose manager, Jonas Eidevall, struggling for words after the 4-1 thrashing that could have been 10-1. And while we’re on the subject of struggling for words, perhaps The Fiver had better end this rambling roundup here.

LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE

Join John Brewin at 7.45pm (BST) for red-hot updates from Czech Republic 0-0 Wales and other Human Rights World Cup qualifiers in his Friday night football clockwatch.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I would like it to be known that I received a higher offer for the club than the one that I accepted. It was from another reputable bidder who made a credible case. But I felt the bid that we accepted from the current new owners would deliver the best for Newcastle United. Money wasn’t my only consideration” – Mike Ashley, ladies and gentlemen, making The Fiver wonder if Emperor Palpatine was in fact behind the other bid.

We hear Derby County need an owner.
We hear Derby County need an owner. Photograph: Shutterstock

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

The Nations League, Next Generation and Newcastle: get your ears around Football Weekly Extra here.

FIVER LETTERS

“Yesterday’s Fiver? Best ever. Yep, I know that’s a low bar, but still …” – David MacGregor.

“An authoritarian regime ruled by one man who’s known for flogging. Will Newcastle fans notice any difference?” – Mark McFadden.

“May I be the first of (hopefully) 1,057 readers to offer The Fiver, well let’s say a fiver, as a contribution towards your upcoming legal bill. With just over £5,000 you should be in a good position to take on the Saudis’ crack legal team” – John Myles (and no others).

“At the risk of accusations of kissing The Fiver’s posterior, thank you for your comment on the Newcastle takeover. I’m but a football-loving Yank who somewhat arbitrarily chose to support the Magpies some years ago. Fortunately, I have the luxury of not having Newcastle in my blood, so I’m done with ‘em. What a choice of owner — an apathetic billionaire or a murderous political regime” – Dave.

“Apologies to the three Newcastle fans that still read The Fiver, but we should all be gunning for them to tank this season and end up in the Championship, just to annoy the new regime. Also, Southend” – Craig Fawcett.

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … David MacGregor.

NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

A judge in Nevada has recommended the dismissal of the rape case against Cristiano Ronaldo.

England’s preparations for their qualifier in Andorra have been disrupted by a fire at the Estadi Nacional on Friday afternoon. The blaze was quickly extinguished but has caused damage to the TV gantry at the 3,300-seater venue.

Southampton have finally signed up to the FA’s diversity code but said “the club maintains it could go further”.

“Millions of families across the UK lost a lifeline and a means of staying afloat. A move that could see child poverty rise to one in three children … Covid-19 can no longer be used as an excuse.” Marcus Rashford gets The Fiver back on theme by sticking to politics and spelling out to the UK government why cutting universal credit is a heartless and cruel thing to do.

Marcus Rashford receives an honorary doctorate from the University of Manchester.
Marcus Rashford receives an honorary doctorate from the University of Manchester. Photograph: University of Manchester

Raphinha leapt off the bench to create two goals on his Brazil debut in the 3-1 HRWC qualifying win over Venezuela. “Tite asked me to do what I did with Leeds,” he blabbed after being asked by hacks why he was so good.

Scotland face Israel for the 775th time in the past few years and Steve Clarke reckons a raucous home crowd could help his bravehearts stay in contention for the HRWC. “It is excitement for me,” he cheered. “We have a full house at Hampden … I am intrigued to see if that makes a difference.”

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Gareth Southgate has reiterated his belief that the best way out of Covid purgatory is to get jabbed. “It is a complicated area [but] the route out of the pandemic is a vaccination programme,” he said. “I am yet to hear anyone offer an alternative.”

And in what came as news to The Fiver, Manchester United’s football director, John Murtough, revealed that the club does in fact have a blueprint for success. “[We] need to keep control, don’t get carried away, don’t deviate from our plan,” he honked, while also giving Ole Gunnar Solskjær his backing.

STILL WANT MORE?

Walk arm-in-arm with the Saudi state and the faux morality around football simply collapses, writes Barney Ronay. Meanwhile, David Conn reckons the takeover of Newcastle proves money and reputation laundering can trump human rights concerns.

Supporter Martin Farrer on why Newcastle are not selling their soul because there is no soul left to sell. And here’s Louise Taylor with a guide to the new key figures at St James’ Park.

Bon Jovi singalongs, “mirror dress code policy” and bamboo kits: Forest Green are doing things differently but thriving in League Two, says Ben Fisher.

We’re not sure what’s going on here but it’s a good photo.
We’re not sure what’s going on here but it’s a good photo. Photograph: Nizaam Jones/JMP/Shutterstock

To avoid the inevitable at Watford, Claudio Ranieri will need to repeat what he did at Sampdoria, writes Ben McAleer.

And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!

‘I’M THINKING OF A DREAM I HAD’



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