Luis Enrique’s ‘final four’

Luis Enrique directs the training of the Spanish team this Monday in Las Rozas.

Luis Enrique directs the training of the Spanish team this Monday in Las Rozas.

It is not the Eurocup not even a World Cup. Rather, it is a UEFA invention to give seriousness to controversial friendlies of the national teams, but it must be recognized that the League of Nations has achieved its objective. What before was seen as a procedure that barely hooked the fans, now has a certain interest thanks to the level of the contenders.

The first champion was Portugal, which was crowned in Porto in 2019. This week the second will be known with the final four in Italy, precisely the team that was proclaimed European champion in July against England at Wembley.

More competitiveness

The competition with the least tradition of the international panorama of selections tries get stronger in a match-strewn schedule. The first stone of its creation was laid in 2011 at a meeting in Cyprus that opened a closed consultation three years later with the birth of the UEFA Nations League, approved at a congress held in Astana.

“UEFA and the federations wanted a greater relevance of national team football, since coaches, players and fans feel that more and more international friendlies are not providing adequate sports competition,” reflects the body as the origin of a tournament that distributes to the 55 federations in four leagues according to their ranking. From there, promotions and relegation take place, guaranteeing matches of great interest.

Troubled times

In Italy the champions of the four groups of the first category meet this week. In the final four, the world champion (France), the queen of Europe (Italy), the number one in FIFA (Belgium) and Spain, who aspire to give themselves a joy in a turbulent time in which all eyes turn to Luis Enrique, the coach who led the Red to the semifinals in the last continental event despite criticism, especially from the capital.

Italy crossed the path of Spain in the previous European Championship in an exciting semi-final at Wembley that was decided on penalties. La Roja and La Azzurra will fight again on Tuesday for a gap in Sunday’s final at San Siro, the stadium that will also host the pulse on Wednesday.

An award for the Red

Italy starts as a favorite against a Spain with doubts. Compete at home and accumulate 37 games without losing (28 wins, 9 draws), a historical record that surpasses the marks of 36 games in Spain (2007-2009) and Brazil (1993-1995). His last defeat occurred on September 10, 2018, precisely in the Nations League against Portugal (0-1).

“Spain was the rival we fought the most during the Euro. It is a good team with good players. It would be incredible to win the Nations after the Euro,” says Roberto Mancini, ready to achieve the double in a brilliant 2021. “Being in the final phase is a prize that we have won. That’s why I don’t feel pressure. The objective is to be a champion and that’s what we are going to do. It is a competition that motivates us and we would love to win “, reflects Luis Enrique.

Looking at the World Cup

Spain led their Nations League group ahead of Germany (which they thrashed 6-0), Switzerland and Ukraine, which was the only one capable of defeating it. With 13 goals, she is the second highest scorer of the tournament, only surpassed by Belgium (16). The final four comes a month before the challenge that most worries Luis Enrique. “In November we are going to be at the World Cup, the greatest motivation for a player. I love that there is media noise, it means that we are playing important things,” says the Spaniard.

In San Siro there will be no lack of references from the latest success of the azzurra, such as the meta Donnarumma, the veterans Bonucci and Chiellini, or the dangerous Chiesa. No less interesting will be the cast of Thursday’s pulse in Turin, in which France will try to make up for its failure in the last European Championship, in which they fell in the round of 16 against Switzerland when they clearly aspired to the title.

With Mbappé, Benzema and Griezmann at the helm, the bleus will play it with the Belgium of Lukaku, Eden Hazard and De Bruyne. Robert Martínez’s block was already eliminated from the last World Cup by the French, who now aspire to the throne of the youngest UEFA national team tournament.


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