THERE will be no one shoving a flare in their face when England and Italy meet again tomorrow night.
As a result of those chaotic Wembley scenes at last summer’s Euro final, there will be no paying fans at all.
But even if England hadn’t been ordered to play tomorrow’s game behind closed doors in Molineux, the mood would still be very different from eleven months ago.
Because as much as Uefa may try to disguise the Nations League as a prestigious international tournament, we all know the reality.
So just try to tell the weary players that four games in ten days at the end of a grueling season really means something.
And try to tell the public that watching two reserve teams perform the moves is the best way to spend a Saturday night.
No one is going to have an open top bus parade if they win the Nations League.
And nobody gets sacked if they don’t make it to the final – as Gareth Southgate pointed out when failing to qualify against Iceland, Denmark and Belgium was greeted with a national shrug last time out.
I suspect that the players who won a penalty shootout against Switzerland in the third-place play-offs in 2019 don’t even know where their bronze medal is.
And hands up who can remember which team won the competition last October.*
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This afternoon Southgate and one of his players will sit down and tell us how important these upcoming home games against Italy and Hungary are.
The player repeats the old mantra “It’s always an honor to play for my country” as he counts down the days until his vacation.
But there shouldn’t be any shame in admitting that this is an accoutrement we can all live without.
Southgate insists they are vital to his World Cup preparations as they give him the opportunity to look at new players, formations and tactics.
However, he already knows his strongest cast – and it doesn’t include James Justin, Jarrod Bowen or Marc Guehi.
It was hard not to feel sympathy for Justin as he struggled to impress on his international debut while so many of his team-mates were stuck in second gear in last week’s lethargic 1-0 defeat in Hungary.
Southgate actually admitted some of his players could barely walk after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Germany.
Tomorrow’s selection of the Pick ‘n Mix team will be determined by the promises they made to concerned Premier League managers to protect their players.
He’ll probably need a pitchside calculator to work out how many minutes each of his Three Lions players have left in the tank before they run out of gas completely.
And Italy boss Roberto Mancini will operate under the same restrictions despite his team failing to even qualify for November’s World Cup in Qatar.
Whether it’s a win, loss or a draw tomorrow, it will be practically impossible to draw any concrete conclusions from the game.
Which begs the question, why do we bother?
* It was France that defeated Spain in the final. Or was it the other way around? I can not remember.
WALES COURT OFF
THE £10m from World Cup qualifying will benefit the Welsh FA, who were too stingy to use goal-line technology for their play-off final against Ukraine.
But they still don’t know who will lead their team to Qatar as they await the verdict of Ryan Giggs’ upcoming court case.
Giggs has been suspended as head coach since he was arrested last year and charged with assault and assault against his ex-girlfriend. A hearing is now scheduled for August.
In his absence, Rob Page has stepped up to the helm and has done a great job of securing a World Cup appearance for the first time since 1958.
Should Giggs be acquitted, he will expect to return to work and his employers have a legal obligation to reinstate him. Which could be quite awkward for everyone involved.
Not that it would worry some of the more hysterical Wales correspondents, who risk replacing their Scottish counterparts as fans with laptops.
EM IN THE HEADLIGHT
EMMA RADUCANU’s fitness fight becomes the sporting saga of the summer after she got injured again the other day.
The US Open champion has now withdrawn from three of her 11 tournaments in 2022 – and she did not progress past the third round in any of them.
Now we get daily updates on her recovery from the various back, hip and rib issues she has been suffering from over the past few months.
With Wimbledon just over two weeks away, fears are growing that the golden girl of British sport might not make it to Center Court.
However, it’s hard to believe that Raducanu’s small army of sponsors and commercial partners won’t be leaning on the frail 19-year-old to appear in tennis’ blue riband event.
And how will the BBC do without their prized Sports Personality of the Year?
No wonder she struggles to live up to all those expectations.
EARN & SQUIRMIN’
Golf usually doesn’t interest me because it’s the most boring sport in the world.
But I have to say I’m looking forward to the women’s version of the new Saudi-backed event.
And I really enjoyed watching the renegade rebels squirm to justify their participation in the LIV Invitational Series.
Ahead of Wednesday’s press conference, the toughest question Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood have ever faced was choosing their club on the fifth fairway.
But suddenly they were asked if there was any country in the world they wouldn’t play if the money was good enough. And they couldn’t find an answer.
Outstanding work by the intrepid Inquisitor. I’m sure he looks forward to being invited to the Jamal Khashoggi Classic at a Saudi embassy of his choosing.
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/football/premier-league/5527023/nations-league-pointless-england-southgate-italy/ Gareth Southgate says Nations League games are vital to his World Cup plans but let’s face it, they’re pointless