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England’s limp finish masks their promise

The numbed anticlimax of Sunday’s third-place play-off ensured the lingering impression of England’s Nations League campaign was one of deflation, as if any hint of progress over the last year had been a mirage. In truth, it was hard to gauge improvements given the disruptions caused by the Champions League and Europa League finals. There were promising passages in each game and periods when the team rather lost their way. But development could be measured in the impact made by Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez, or by Jadon Sancho and Declan Rice in flashes. Another semi-final was lost but a second successive penalty shootout was won. The squad unity that had been a feature at the World Cup was maintained, with an injection of youth offering promise for the future. This all felt more of a useful exercise than the alternative: two Euro 2020 qualifiers against whipping boys. Dominic Fifield

Robinson makes his case despite Brady’s success

Dullness in midfield and bluntness in front of goal remain acute problems for the Republic of Ireland. The biggest positive for them during Monday’s grim home win against Gibraltar was the bright display by Callum Robinson, who had been given only two minutes against Denmark on Friday. The Preston winger was regularly dangerous and formed a good relationship on the right with Séamus Coleman. So it was puzzling when Robinson, and not the way-out-of-form Jeff Hendrick or James McClean, was substituted after 73 minutes. But when Robinson’s replacement, Robbie Brady, scored a late goal from an exquisite cross by McClean, McCarthy could claim vindication. Brady and McClean will need to reproduce moments like that with much more regularity to justify being chosen ahead of Robinson and Callum O’Dowda. Ireland top their group but the most difficult assignments are ahead. Paul Doyle

No need for this Dutch spine to be broken up

If the Netherlands’ players looked tired in Porto on Sunday night, maybe it’s because they were. The Dutch had a day less to prepare. They couldn’t find the edge to chase down a fine Portugal team. But something is stirring here, to the extent the Netherlands already look a decent prospect to resume their status as bright but brittle outsiders before Qatar 2022. Another good thing about international football: other countries can’t sign all your best players. So the Ajax spine will remain even as it ceases to be an Ajax spine. Frenkie de Jong will be in his luminous pomp come the next World Cup. Ryan Babel may or my not be a better option than Donny van de Beek (he’s not), but Ronald Koeman has a wave of young attacking talent simmering away. Europe needs a strong Netherlands. The Dutch have so often been the masters off good habits and beautiful football that falls decoratively short at the last. Some more of the same can only be a good thing. Barney Ronay