Opinion: How the Nations League is casting a magical spell over Europe
There has been some magical football on the pitch too

Opinion: How the Nations League is casting a magical spell over Europe

Like magic, not many people are sure how the concept works but the content is entertaining.

Chris Lincoln

Without using a search engine, explain the format of the UEFA Nations League in 60 seconds?...

....Four leagues; each league has four groups; each group has three or four teams; there is promotion and relegation but also some sort of play-off style format...something to do with another chance for major competition qualification...

Lost? We all were when the Nations League draw was made and UEFA presented a video about how the competition worked. Let's be honest most of are still unsure now.

Glorified friendlies?

When the draw was made in January, the competition looked doomed to failure. Was this tournament really going to be taken seriously just weeks after the World Cup?

Add in the usual club vs country problem with managers across the continent nervously twitching about the thought of their star players getting injured or tired, it was safe to say UEFA had a lot of positive PR work to do.

Yet, there has been a strange feeling in the opening matchdays of the tournament since it started last month...

This is getting competitive

Those thoughts began developing on the first gameweek. Hold on...this is supposed to be a 'glorified friendly' but there was a yellow card. A YELLOW CARD in an international football match during the domestic season!? These matches have a bit of competition about them.

Midway through the first half of England's opener against Spain in September and you found yourself still awake and interested. Sorry? We are supposed to be fed up and complain about the performance no matter what the result is.

The tempo of the matches have increased, quite possibly raising the average heart rate of football fans in the process. Points were on offer and the matches were hard to call. It wasn't a case of how many could we put past San Marino in a friendly; it was now a question of can we go top of the table with a win over the mighty Spain in the first match of the tournament?

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Promotion and relegation

How many of us found ourselves not just enjoying England games but all of a sudden checking in on other matches. "Let's just take a look at the Norway vs Bulgaria score in League C3, both sides have a chance of promotion. I'm not quite sure how that works but it sounds good."

And there is something about a league table, no matter how big or small, that captures the attention and imagination of every football fan, especially when promotion and relegation are features.

All of a sudden the return Spain vs England fixture became the most important match in English football history since...well, the World Cup semi-final. Defeat would put us in danger of relegation, a draw meant we could not progress to the overall semi-finals, whilst a win would move us within two points of the league leaders. This wasn't just becoming exciting. It was getting serious.

Changing mindsets

It formulated one of England's best performances (certainly in the first-half) and results since the turn of the century. Would we have been so passionate, offensive and determined to win if this was just a friendly?

How many of us found ourselves jumping out of our seats at 3-0. Hold on. Shouldn't we all be questioning whether England can turn out such a performance at the World Cup or European Championships?

"Why am I feeling optimistic about our national football team outside of a major football competition? Am I still English?"

"Senseless" or sensible?

The competition still has its critics - Jurgen Klopp described it as “the most senseless competition in the world of football”. He must either not be enjoying quieter training sessions at Liverpool or is pretending not to be bothered about the threat of relegation for Germany

Yet the Nations League is infectious, like a Derren Brown trick drawing you in and confusing the mind. Even the Spanish players lost their cool at the final whistle on Monday evening.

I am still not sure I am allowed to be enjoying the competition but more and more people seem to be transitioning to the other side...