The Nations League lacks the buzz and standing of a World Cup or European Championship, but the inaugural finals offer England the chance to cap their rise with a first senior trophy in 53 years.
With the Three Lions’ memorable run to the semi-finals in Russia still fresh in the mind of players and fans, popular manager Gareth Southgate has another shot at silverware in June.
England head to Portugal to take on Holland in the semi-finals in Guimaraes on June 6, having impressively topped a qualifying group including swashbuckling Spain and World Cup semi-final foes Croatia.
Hosts Portugal or surprise package Switzerland await the victors in the Porto finale of a competition that offers England the chance to win a first senior trophy since lifting the 1966 World Cup – a wait Southgate pointed to when asked why the Nations League matters.
“The fact that it is so long since we won anything, first and foremost,” the former Three Lions centre-back said. “We want to be in big matches.
“If we think back to the excitement of qualifying – the win against Spain and having beaten Croatia – they were big matches in terms of our progress.
“We have got thousands of fans who are going and looking forward to enjoying the growth of the team and it is an important step for us ahead of next summer as well.
“We are still trying to blood some young players into the group, but the more they experience winning and playing and winning big matches, the better.
“We want them to be excited about the England games and that’s the feeling I have when I travel around the country.”
Excitement has yet to build for the Nations League as attention has been focused on the unprecedented all-English finals in the Europa League and Champions League.
The fact so many of Southgate’s squad have been involved in the latter clash between Liverpool and Tottenham highlights the progress being made by English players, but the scheduling has been a drawback.
Inexplicably UEFA has organised the semi-finals just days after the Champions League showpiece, meaning Southgate is facing umpteen unknowns.
But the former defender is not one for excuses and trusts his squad to challenge for a first senior crown since Sir Alf Ramsey’s 1966 heroes.
“It has been an incredible couple of weeks for English football,” Southgate added. “Both the European ties and the Championship play-offs, so really exciting matches and the start of trophies being handed out.
“We’re looking forward to the opportunity to finish that summer off once everything is done – a great opportunity for us to build on the last 12 months.”
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.
Thank you for signing up to Four Four Two. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.