Gareth Southgate is relishing the prospect of England competing in the inaugural Nations League Finals and has declared the fledgling tournament a success.
A stunning comeback against Croatia at Wembley last November saw England book their place in the end-of-season event, where they have been drawn against Netherlands.
Portugal will play Switzerland in the other semi-final, with England seeking to win their first international honours since lifting their sole World Cup in 1966.
The Nations League was initially criticised by club managers such as Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp but, according to Southgate, the launch of the tournament has been a boon for international football during a usually quiet period of the calendar.
“I think it’s a bit early to judge on a broader scale but it’s been a huge success in terms of the quality of the matches, the excitement of the matches,” Southgate told UEFA.
“[Without the Nations League] we would have been into a period of early qualification for the European Championship and probably more friendlies within that spell. And I think, on the back of a World Cup, that would have been very difficult for a lot of teams in terms of the motivation and the desire.
“So I can only speak from experiences, but the players were excited by the games, the supporters were excited by the games, the level of the opposition meant there was high motivation and then [came] the drama of the group. There was so much jeopardy within the group that we were anywhere from place three, two, one throughout the game with Croatia. And that again added to the excitement of the occasion.”
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Netherlands came through a tough group featuring world champions France to make it through to the Nations League Finals, with Southgate expecting a tough battle against Ronald Koeman’s resurgent Oranje side.
“I watched a lot of Portugal at the last European Championship. I was a technical analyst for UEFA during that, so I was really impressed by their adaptability,” he said.
“A very smart coach [Fernando Santos] who had good players to work with, but tactically was excellent throughout the tournament. They’re now hosting, and they’ll be very, very strong on the back of winning the European Championship.
“Holland, I’ve got to know Ronald [Koeman] a little bit from his time at Everton and again I really like what he’s done with the team – some very exciting young players coming through.
“We played them in his first match where he hadn’t had time really to work with the players, but we knew already – with [Georginio] Wijnaldum, [Virgil] Van Dijk, [Patrick] Van Aanholt, people like that who are playing in England – that they’ve got some very good players, and the way that he will want to play and he’ll coach them. You can see that starting to come together already.”
Southgate added: “And Switzerland, we played in September in a friendly and they played us off the park for 45 minutes. I thought they were very good in the World Cup, they had one bad day against Sweden. So, I think it’s a very open draw, an exciting draw because it’s four teams who haven’t had huge success over the years.
“Portugal have had more recent success than any of us [winning Euro 2016], Holland have been a while [without success], we’ve been ages! So, I think all of the supporters will be excited by it, and I think it’s going to be a really enjoyable summer.”
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