The inaugural UEFA Nations League has found its final four teams.
England, Portugal, Switzerland and the Netherlands will compete against each other in the semi-finals next summer after a group stages full of shocks and surprises. World Champions France failed to win their group whilst former champions Germany ended up getting relegated!
There was so much good stuff being played as the Nations League genuinely reinvigorated what had become tired and dull international breaks with fun competitive football. And now, looking ahead to a surprising final four, we’re left to ask how they would look combined into one side? With the criteria that selection is based on how well they played in the group stages, how would a combined XI of the UEFA Nations League final four actually look?
Goalkeeper: Rui Patricio
Europe’s bigger name goalkeepers haven’t fared so well in the Nations League, but Rui Patricio has continued to be quietly brilliant between the sticks for Portugal. The Wolves stopper has conceded just twice in the whole competition. Portugal’s solid defence is the bedrock upon which their whole side is built; and it wouldn’t work without Patricio.
Right-back: Denzel Dumfries
The Dutch have played four games, winning two, drawing and losing another. Denzel Dumfries didn’t play in the draw or a loss. The PSV youngster is a phenomenal player on the right, capable of solid defending but also a continuously thundering presence up the touchline, providing raiding width for the Oranje as they whupped Germany and France.
Centre-back: Joe Gomez
Joe Gomez has emerged from nowhere since the World Cup to be one of England’s most solid defenders. The centre-back is having an incredible club season but his displays for England, alongside Harry Maguire and/or John Stones, have earned him enormous acclaim. His tough, no-nonsense style will make him a fixture for years to come.
Centre-back: Virgil Van Dijk
Joining his club-mate Gomez at the back is Netherlands captain Virgil Van Dijk. An absurd combination of world-class ability, devastating good-look and gentlemanly stature. Van Dijk is an incredible leader and has helped guide a young Dutch side to improbable success, contributing directly with the opening goal in the Dutch win against Germany and the stoppage time equaliser in the rematch to seal his country’s status as group winners. Captain, leader, legend.
Left-back: Daley Blind
The first of two examples on this XI of why you should never believe José Mourinho when he says he doesn’t have enough good players at Manchester United. Blind was exiled from United’s first-team ages ago, leaving officially in the summer where Ajax have nursed him back to health. And here he is, back in his position at left-back, providing intelligent and crucial width for his country.
Midfield: Frenkie de Jong
Frenkie de Jong is a phenomenal midfielder. A player possessing the attributes to become a world-class #6, #8 or even #10. He played France and Germany twice each and was staggeringly confident and capable every time. Ritually humiliating N’Golo Kanté as the Dutch beat the World Champions was the highlight. Whichever path he chooses (Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta… or Rijkaard, Seedorf, Litamenen, if you prefer) you just know he’ll be absolutely mesmeric to watch.
Midfield: Bernardo Silva
Portugal needed a talismanic figure to emerge and lead their new generation into the light, and that man has been Bernardo Silva. Whether wearing the no. 10 or 11, he has exerted an incredible degree of control over Portugal and even managed to pop up with the crucial game-winning goal away to Poland.
Midfield: Georginio Wijnaldum
The Liverpool midfielder is often deployed deeper for his club, but the Netherlands have unleashed Wijnaldum as a true box-to-box midfield presence, emphasising the offensive. So often Wijnaldum makes forward runs into key spots to score goals, much as he did against Germany and France – helping lift his country up to glory.
Right-wing: Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling has been good all through England’s Nations League campaign, but he shone in particular in Seville as England tore Spain to pieces on the break. The Manchester City man hammered home two spectacular goals, his first for England for what seemed like a bajillion years, to (temporarily) silence critics who unfairly target him. Sterling is fast becoming the player he has always had the potential to be; that’s good for England and bad for everyone else.
Left-wing: Marcus Rashford
Never trust José Mourinho. As if Daley Blind wasn’t enough refutation, watching Marcus Rashford play with such drive and verve in his game is a sight to see. A player uncoiled, unchained and unleashed. Rashford plays the same position that he does for United, but his place in the England attack is so much better defined (and the defensive workload so much less) that he thrives. Of England’s four goals against Spain, Rashford scored or made the first three. A huge presence on the biggest of stages.
Striker: Haris Seferovic
Harry Kane, André Silva and Memphis Depay have all been pretty good and impactful this Nations League group stages, scoring goals and helping their sides qualify for the final four. But they all have to take a back seat here because of one man.
As we entered the final round of Nations League fixtures, Romelu Lukaku sat as League A’s top scorer with 4 goals and looked set to join the above forward in the final four. He was injured, but surely Belgium could find their way by Switzerland without him?
Well, turns out, no. Lukaku scored Belgium’s two goals when the sides met in Brussels, but here in Luzern the night belonged to Haris Seferovic. The Bosniak Swiss has never been a prolific scorer, but that night against Belgium he looked lethal.
A hat-trick, a perfect hat-trick, that pulled Switzerland from 0-2 down to 5-2 ahead. A perfect hat-trick that sunk one of the competition’s favourites. A perfect hat-trick that gave us the shock of the tournament and proved just why the UEFA Nations league might actually be pretty great. A perfect hat-trick that wrote his name into Swiss footballing folklore.