International football is now set to go into hibernation until next year following the end of Euro 2020 qualifiers and the Nations League group stage.
Here, the PA news agency’s reporters give their end-of-term verdict on each nation – and a mark out of 10.
Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer
England v Iceland. The final international of a challenging year pic.twitter.com/I9mv43dECS— Simon Peach (@SimonPeach) November 18, 2020
In terms of results within the eight matches, beating Belgium, the number one ranked team in the world, takes some topping. But the main positive is the progress of another new generation, including the likes of Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka.
Aside from the shock loss to Denmark being compounded by defeat in Belgium, the off-field drama – from Harry Maguire’s Greek court case to Foden and Mason Greenwood’s bio-bubble breach in Iceland – has provided an unwanted headache.
There is plenty for England’s young squad to work on, but they continue to make strides heading into the rearranged European Championship, which starts at Wembley – and could end there with a trophy.
For some it seems that Southgate has lost the goodwill brought by the memorable run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, but he remains a calm head willing to make bold calls. He is still the best man for the job.
Mark out of 10: Six
Gavin McCafferty, Scottish Sports Editor
Scotland’s Nations League campaign played second fiddle to their Euro 2020 play-offs, which were interspersed among six group games. Scoring 10 penalties out of 10 in the team’s first two shoot-outs in their history showed this is a Scotland team which can handle the heat. Victory in Serbia was one of Scotland’s greatest triumphs given it ended a 23-year wait to play in a major finals.
The euphoria of beating Serbia has been deflated to some extent by failure to seal Nations League promotion. Steve Clarke’s men led Group B2 by four points ahead of their final two games but were overtaken by the Czech Republic following successive 1-0 defeats in Slovakia and Israel. The outcome feels like a missed opportunity given the possible ramifications for a Euro 2024 play-off place in particular.
The final two defeats should not cloud the fact that huge progress has been made, even beyond the obvious qualification feat. Scotland took an unbeaten run to nine matches, their longest since 1927, and have looked extremely solid. They have also looked more confident and adventurous in possession, even during the defeats. Finding a clinical edge would continue that progress.
Clarke deserves enormous credit for revamping a side who looked short of confidence during much of 2019. Made a bold decision to ditch his preference for a back four and deploy left-back Kieran Tierney and midfielder Scott McTominay in a three-man central defence. The plan quickly paid off. Scotland look like a close-knit squad who know exactly what their roles are.
Mark out of 10: Eight
I'm not entirely sure this is how Ireland are going to line up. Daryl Horgan will hope not, anyway. pic.twitter.com/yL0GBMBBcR— Damian Spellman (@DamianSpellman) November 15, 2020
The one crumb of comfort for new manager Stephen Kenny is the emergence of a crop of fresh players, with Dara O’Shea, Jayson Molumby and Jason Knight in particular stepping up from the Under-21s to suggest they have a future at senior level.
Kenny’s promised brand of progressive football may have yielded more possession, but it has failed to result in goals – they have not scored in 11 hours – or wins, with three draws and five defeats in his eight games to date.
Injuries and positive coronavirus tests have blighted Ireland in the last two months in particular and while a new-look squad remains very much a work in progress, a lack of both creativity and potency have proved costly.
Kenny has had much with which to contend on and off the pitch during the early months of his reign, including a Euro 2020 play-off semi-final in just his third fixture, and while his mission will begin in earnest with next year’s World Cup qualifiers, he would have hoped to launch it on the back of a significantly more positive start.
Mark out of 10: Four
Clinching promotion to Nations League A with a vibrant attacking display against Finland after goals had been hard to come by.
Losing Ryan Giggs from the November games due to off-pitch matters and the uncertainty over the manager’s position.
Another move in the right direction as a group of highly promising youngsters continue to grow alongside skipper Gareth Bale and other senior players.
Caretaker Robert Page showed excellent leadership to seal Nations League promotion and finish the job Giggs had started.
Mark out of 10: Nine
Liam Boyce’s decisive penalty in Sarajevo gave Northern Ireland a shootout victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina and raised hopes they could reach a second consecutive European Championship.
Those hopes were ended when Slovakia’s Michal Duris struck in the 110th minute of the play-off final at Windsor Park, and more bad news followed a week later as Northern Ireland were relegated in the Nations League.
There have been encouraging signs with the performances of youngsters Ali McCann and Dan Ballard, but the key objectives of this international window have been missed as Northern Ireland face a summer on the sofa and a future in League C.
Just months into the job, Ian Baraclough could not make his mark quickly enough to capitalise on the chance to reach Euro 2020 and is yet to win a game inside 90 minutes – though he can point to a similar start to life in charge for Michael O’Neill.
Mark out of 10: Five