Germany show signs of recovery despite latest defeat as Russia continue revival: Uefa Nations League talking points
Also featured are a Portugal side thriving without Ronaldo, ugly scenes in Slovenia and some history among the tournament's smaller teams
Germany thankful for small mercies
Seldom can a sixth defeat in 10 matches have been celebrated with such relief. But signs of a German recovery following Saturday's chastening 3-0 loss to Holland in Group A1 were there in Paris on Tuesday. The humbled, bruised, and dethroned former world champions at least looked competitive and purposeful in falling 2-1 to France.
“The Best Defeat of the Year!” boomed Bild-Zeiting, the country’s best-selling newspaper. And there are a few to measure it against from a gloomy 2018.
The ambush by Mexico that began an awful two weeks in Russia in June; the humiliation by South Korea that left Germany bottom of their World Cup group; the 3-0 blitzing by the Dutch.
Encouraged by the vibrant performance of Leroy Sane, controversially omitted from the Russia plans, and some bold tactical decisions by under-pressure manager Joachim Low, who fielded a back three, the threat of the sack for Low has faded.
However, his Germany might still be relegated to Group B before they have kicked another ball in the competition, should France lose to a buoyant Holland.
No Golden Ball, plenty of Silvas
Closest to reaching the finals after the first four rounds of what has been a compelling start to Uefa’s new competition are Portugal, the reigning European champions.
The Portuguese, who have expressed a strong interest in hosting the deciding June mini-tournament - two semi-finals and a final - that will determine the first Nations League winners, embarked on their campaign knowing Cristiano Ronaldo would be unavailable, on a break from internationals. No CR7, no crisis, it seems.
Having beaten Italy 1-0 in their Group A3 opener thanks to an Andre Silva goal, more Silva service overcame Poland 3-2.
Andre Silva netted the first, Bernardo Silva the third and, in between, Rafa Silva chased a fine through ball from Ruben Neves that Poland’s Kamil Glik prodded into his own net, his toe just ahead of the Benfica’s Silva’s shot.
Adrien Silva, the Portugal and Leicester midfielder, was not involved but cannot help but believe that his name alone recommends he comes back into contention soon.
The team who went into their own World Cup unable to win any of their seven warm-up games are extending their transformation.
Once again, Denis Cheryshev, the winger without a goal in four years as an international before the World Cup, and now with six of them, was on the scoresheet in the 2-0 win over Turkey.
Russia will guarantee promotion from Group B with a point in their final fixture away against Sweden, and although Uefa will be pleased to see a potential heavyweight country back up among the elite, they would be obliged once again to tread on political eggshells in two years time.
Ukraine have stylishly gained promotion to Group A already, and, because of the ongoing tensions between Russia and Ukraine, the governing body dictates they will not be drawn in the same group.
Losing it in Ljubljana
The best way of detecting the difference between a friendly and a fixture with something at stake - the difference the Nations League was designed to make - is to watch the referee.
Europe’s leading officials have been busy, with no assistance from VAR, in the new tournament. None more than Mads-Kristoffer Kristoffersen, whose debut officiating in the competition turned out rather eventful.
Taking charge of Group C3’s Slovenia against Cyprus, he reached for his pocket in the first minute, to book the home team’s Josef Ilicic. He showed Ilicic his second yellow card in the 90th.
In between he brandished four more yellows and another red card, to Cyprus’s Grigoris Kastanos, in the 1-1 draw.
The easiest decision he made? It came deep into injury time of a seething contest, the dismissal of Cyprus’s Jason Demetriou for a dreadful, cynical lunge at Domen Crnigoj.
Momentum among the minnows
Group D, where the lowest seeded teams reside, makes history by the day. The leading goalscorers across all 55 countries involved in the Nations League? Little Luxembourg, who have struck 10 goals, more than anybody but Spain, and can leap out of the basement if they beat Belarus next month.
The highest rate of joy per head of population? Among Gibraltar’s 30,000-odd residents, surely. Gibraltar won their first competitive fixture, 1-0 away to Armenia, where their hosts played the wrong national anthem for their guests before kick-off and then peppered the Gibraltarian goal with no fewer than 35 unsuccessful shots.
The men from the Rock followed up with a 2-1 against Liechtenstein. A Euro 2020 play-off chance remains a long-shot, but still possible.
Updated: October 17, 2018 04:43 PM