UEFA ‘Nations League’ can expect major backlash from club owners and managers

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As a fan, it’s difficult to read about the UEFA ‘Nations League’ and not be excited for the new competition.

Another meaningful contest among top European nations?!?! A European international tournament that gives birth to another European international tournament?!?!

Freaking genius!

No more of these boring, largely meaningless friendlies that tell us next to nothing about the true potency of a national team.

Sure, those matches provide some tactical upside like being a means for managers to blood young talent and try out new formations. But from a purely supporters-based perspective, international friendly weekends suck — major letdowns that barely serve as a hit in fans eternal search for soccer ecstasy.

Which is exactly why just one week after an international friendly, most supporters have grown so despondent they’ve turned sport into religion. “Thank the Gods of Soccer, the [insert league/competition name here] is back. Thought I might not make it there for awhile…

So in that sense, a Nations League is more than a welcome addition to the soccer menu. But beneath pure, unbridled fandom lurks a very important consideration — the well-being of the players we all love. At what point does it all become too much?

Crucial to the 54 UEFA member associations push for the new ‘Nations League’ is the concept that club managers should get on board because the tournament will not add more matches to a player’s schedule. “We’re not taking any more dates so it’s the same 18 dates, the nine double-headers that we agreed we would work to,” said Alex Horne, General Secretary of England’s Football Association.

This point, of course, is a red herring.

Simply because there will not be a greater quantity of matches does not mean that a significant added strain will be placed on the players. Expect this to be a major point of contention from club owners and managers. As is, most clubs already hate international friendlies, which all too often result in a player returning back to the club injured (see, e.g. Jack Wilshere in England’s friendly v. Denmark on March 5th).

For club managers, a Nations League will only serve to increase the likelihood and frequency of their star players finding themselves on the trainer’s table. No longer will top European internationals be willing to sit out at any sign of breakdown or exhaustion. The inherent demand each player will feel to help his nation qualify for the Euros will be unrelenting. Prudence will become a thing of the past.

“I think better quality games make for better quality development of players and the club managers ought to embrace it,” Horne stated Thursday.

Good luck selling that message to the men who sign the checks.

 

Group C wide open as Denmark, Australia settle for draw

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Denmark and Australia settled for a 1-1 draw on Thursday, as this exciting Group C affair had nothing to separate the two nations at the end of 90 minutes.

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As it stands, the Danes lead the group with four points, while Australia earned its first point of the World Cup.

France will meet Peru later on Thursday, with Les Bleus having won its first match and Peru having suffered defeat to Denmark.

The Danes broke through after seven minutes when Nicolai Jørgensen picked out a perfect back-heel pass to Christian Eriksen at the top of the box, before the Tottenham Hotspur attacker volleyed home for a 1-0 lead.

Jørgensen nearly doubled the Denmark advantage in the 24th minute when the 27-year-old had an open header from close range that skewed just wide of the target.

Australia worked its way into the match following the opener, and were awarded a penalty kick in the 37th minute after VAR Mark Geiger altered an initial decision for a handball inside the box.

Mile Jedinak converted the spot kick to level the match at 1-1, giving the Socceroos life.

A dangerous free kick four minutes later almost gave Denmark the lead once again, however, Eriksen couldn’t get a crucial touch on the ball to knock it over the goal line before Ryan collected.

The second half continued with lightning pace from both sides, and Aaron Mooy‘s 71st minute blast came inches away from giving Australia an improbable lead.

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The two nations will conclude Group C play on June 26, as Denmark faces France and Australia takes on CONMEBOL side Peru.

Video: VAR awards Australia penalty, before Jedinak converts

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The Socceroos battled admirably in the latter stages of the first half, and Australia was rewarded for their efforts.

Australia has leveled the match at 1-1 after a Mile Jedinak penalty kick cancelled out Christian Eriksen’s stunning opener in the seventh minute.

After an initial decision to play on by the head referee, VAR Mark Geiger opted to award a penalty kick to the Aussies after Yussuf Poulsen was caught with his hand away from his body on a Mathew Leckie header.

Poulsen was also shown a yellow card for the infraction, which rules him out for Denmark’s group-stage finale against France.

Video: Eriksen volley has Denmark ahead inside 10 minutes

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Denmark is well on its way to another three points on Thursday, and this time it’s Christian Eriksen who has finally broken through at the World Cup.

 MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Eriksen put the Danes in front in the seventh minute after a tremendous volley that gave Australia goalkeeper Maty Ryan no chance at keeping it out.

After a sloppy turnover in their own half, Australia could only watch as the ball fell to Nicolai Jørgensen, who cleverly back-heeled to Eriksen at the top of the box.

The Danes pulled off a 1-0 victory in their first Group C match against Peru, while Australia fell 2-1 to France.

Croatia coach says “we have nothing to lose” against Argentina

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Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic chose his words wisely when discussing their final Group D opponent, Argentina, but his side won’t be backing down when they take on Lionel Messi and Co.

[ MORE: Spain gets win after Iran equalizer called off by replay ]

With three points already in the bag for the European nation, Croatia currently sits atop their group, however, Dalic recognizes the task that lies in front of him and his team on Thursday.

“I didn’t say that Argentina was the easiest opponent,” Dalic said. “I said that this was the easiest game for us. We have nothing to lose. We are playing against one of the best.”

Croatia does have the benefit of having won its first match in group play, which has given the side a decided enthusiasm heading into the meeting.

For Ivan Rakitic — who plays at Barcelona with Messi — he believes there isn’t much he or anyone on his team can say or do to further prepare themselves for the Albiceleste.

“What can I tell them that they don’t know?” Rakitic said. “The world knows. Messi is one of the best players in the world. He will have his moments, clearly. It is up to us to stop him, to play the right way against him, and to enjoy the match and play our best.

“It’s a beautiful thing to play against one of the best teams in the world. We are especially motivated.”

In four all-time meetings, Argentina leads 2-1-1 against Croatia, including a 1-0 victory during the 1998 World Cup in France.

The two teams last met in 2014 following Argentina’s World Cup final defeat to Germany, with Messi and Co. earning a 2-1 victory over Croatia.