Now that everyone finally understands the format, the UEFA Nations League looks set to be an unmitigated success. Instead of months of meaningless friendlies, European nations will now play competitive fixtures against similarly-ranked teams. Who knew that an international football organisation could come up with such a smart idea? Here’s a look at 5 heroes from Round 1.
League A - Luis Enrique, Spain
No, manager of Spain isn’t the toughest job in world football but after the team’s disastrous display in Russia, the nation called for change as well as success. So far, former Barcelona boss Enrique is delivering both. Spain beat England 2-1 in their first UEFA Nations League match, and then thrashed World Cup runners-up Croatia 6-0. With Andrés Iniesta, Gerard Piqué and David Silva all now retired, and Diego Costa missing, the Spanish guard has changed. Under Enrique, the likes of Thiago Alcântara, Rodrigo, Marco Asensio and Saúl Ñíguez are playing more direct and dangerous football.
League A – Marcus Rashford, England
With Raheem Sterling missing through injury, this week was a big chance for Rashford to stake his claim for England’s second striker role. The Manchester United forward could – and perhaps should - have had a hat-trick against Spain in the UEFA Nations League, but the most important thing is that he did score one and he did create chances. After a second goal in England’s friendly against Switzerland, Rashford is putting real pressure on Gareth Southgate, and hopefully United boss José Mourinho too.
League B – Emre Akbaba, Turkey (pictured)
With 5 minutes to go in their UEFA Nations League match against Sweden, Turkey were losing 2-1. Step forward Galatasaray midfielder Akbaba, coming on for only his 6th international appearance. No goalkeeper in the world could have stopped his left-foot rocket in the 87th minute and his 91st minute flick header then won the match for Turkey.
League C – Teemu Pukki, Finland
Despite Jari Litmanen, Sami Hyypiä and Mikael Forssell, ‘The Eagle Owls’ have never qualified for a World Cup or Euros. The UEFA Nations League could be Finland’s chance to change that. Norwich City forward Pukki scored both goals in their 1-0 wins over Hungary and Estonia. The first came from a solo dribble and the second was a real striker’s finish at the front post.
League D - Danel Sinani, Luxembourg
A week ago, ‘The Red Lions’ had never won a competitive match by more than 2 goals. Now, they have done it twice, beating Moldova 4-0 and then San Marino 3-0. It was particularly wonderful week for 21-year-old midfielder Sinani, who scored his first 2 international goals, and added 2 assists as well. His left-foot strike against Moldova was excellent, and so was his right-foot pass for Christopher Martins. On this form, Sinani might not stay at F91 Dudelange for long.