The UEFA Nations League break in European football had a number of telling results. Belgium asserted their continued ascent with a 2-1 victory over Switzerland. Croatia played visiting England to an uninspired 0-0 draw in an empty stadium, while Ireland held Denmark 0-0. The Netherlands, looking a new and different team, demolished Germany 3-0, while a still believing Russia defeated Turkey 2-0. Portugal asserted themselves with a 3-2 away win to Poland and Russia and Sweden drew 0-0.
Italy squeezed past Poland 1-0, England held on to break Spain’s home stand streak with a 3-2 defeat of the Iberians. Wales defeated hosts Ireland 1-0, while France came back to defeat visiting Germany 2-1 thanks to Antoine Griezmann’s conversion of an inexistent penalty on Blaise Matuidi.
The current European pecking order seems set as France, Spain, Belgium, and Portugal, hold off wannabes Italy, Netherlands, and England, while B through D Group teams fight for upward mobility.
At the FIFA Friendlies, Spain thrashed host Wales 4-1, Iraq drew 0-0 with visiting Argentina, France and visitors Iceland drew 2-2, Colombia won away to the USA 4-2, and Mexico defeated visiting Costa Rica 3-2. Hosts Peru defeated visiting Chile 3-0, China and India drew 0-0, Portugal defeated hosts Scotland 3-1, Mexico lost to visiting Chile 0-1, the USA drew 1-1 at home to Peru while Belgium did the same with the Netherlands, and Argentina, without Lionel Messi lost 0-1 to Brazil with assist man Neymar.
The outside-Europe global pecking order also seemed set at the break’s end with Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and Mexico looking the stronger New World teams, while Uruguay went walkabout during this edition of the friendlies.
The takeaways form the UEFA Nations League were that Croatia is tired, still, that England is again punching above its weight, that France are the top team in the world if with a little officiating largesse like in the World Cup, that Germany is going through an administrative crisis that is affecting their play and threatens to ensnare their talented squad and that Spain (which will maintain its level if Luis Enrique can commit to a starting lineup), Belgium (which only need to believe to reach their potential, a step beyond their current status) and Portugal (who are making a case for a post-Ronaldo existence) will soon have a repurposed Italy and a rebuilt Netherlands among that second tier of aspirants.
The takeaways from the FIFA Friendlies were that while Portugal is for real even without Cristiano Ronaldo while Argentina is still not so without Messi. The Brazil we witnessed, with a healthier Neymar, is already a world contender but refs are still unwilling to afford the South American striker the protection his level of superstardom should demand. Peru, Colombia, and Chile, in their current forms, will continue to be world class sides while Wales seems but a player or two away from breaking into European contention.
Time will tell if the UEFA Nations League is a success but for now the FIFA Friendlies are providing a good glimpse into where national teams are and where they might aspire to arrive.