England Face Familiar Foes in the New UEFA Nations League
This week is a special one for international football fans as not only is it the first International week of the new season (meaning our Premier League tips are on hiatus for one week), but it is also the start of a brand new International tournament for the 55 members that are registered with UEFA.
The tournament is the UEFA Nations League, a brand new event which UEFA feels will do away with many ‘meaningless’ International Friendly dates, will allow teams of similar ability to play against each other more often and which will also allow for a long term goal of promotion between different divisions.
Member nations of UEFA agreed the tournament back in the Spring of 2014 and by December of that year, a proposed tournament format had been agreed.
UEFA Nations League Tournament Format
The 55-Member nations have been initially placed into one of four Leagues, based on their current FIFA World Ranking. This was used simply for this opening tournament as from then on, promotion and relegation between the four Leagues will decide which teams line up in each League for the next tournament.
- League A – The top 12 teams in Europe
- League B – The next best 12 teams in Europe
- League C – The next best 15 teams in Europe
- League D – The bottom 16 teams in Europe.
Once the teams were allocated to one of the four Leagues, each League was then subdivided into four groups, comprising of three or four teams. The draw for this was made a while back and produced the following initial set up.
UEFA Nations League Draws
- Group 1 – Germany, France, the Netherlands
- Group 2 – Belgium, Switzerland, Iceland
- Group 3 – Portugal, Italy, Poland
- Group 4 – Spain, England, Croatia
- Group 1 – Slovakia, Ukraine, Czech Republic
- Group 2 – Russia, Sweden, Turkey
- Group 3 – Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Northern Ireland
- Group 4 – Wales, Republic of Ireland, Denmark
- Group 1 – Scotland, Albania, Israel
- Group 2 – Hungary, Greece, Finland, Estonia
- Group 3 – Slovenia, Norway, Bulgaria, Cyprus
- Group 4 – Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Lithuania
- Group 1 – Georgia, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Andorra
- Group 2 – Belarus, Luxembourg, Moldova, San Marino
- Group 3 – Azerbaijan, Faroe Islands, Malta, Kosovo
- Group 4 – Macedonia, Armenia, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar
Each group will see the teams play each other twice, home and away, over a period of three months, from September 2018 to November 2018. At the end of those fixtures, each group will be decided.
The Winners of each group in each league head to the individual League Playoffs which take place in June 2019. Here there will be a two-legged semifinal, followed by a final to decide which team is the League winner. The winner of each League will earn a qualification spot at the 2020 European Championships.
The team bottom of each Group in each league will then be relegated into the division below (apart from the teams finishing bottom of the four Groups in League D). The teams finishing top of Groups B, C and D will be promoted into the League above in their place.
The next tournament will then start with these new Leagues and new groups to be drawn from these leagues in September 2020 following the European Championships that year.
Teams in three-team Groups will have two free dates in the calendar from September to November, during which they are free to play friendly games if they so wish.
England Handed Tough Nations League Debut
After a positive summer in the World Cup, England boss Gareth Southgate now faces a tough test in the first Nations League campaign for his team as the Three Lions have been drawn into a group with one of the favourites to win the tournament, Spain, as well as the team that beat England in the World Cup Semifinal this summer, Croatia.
England begin their campaign at Wembley on Saturday 8th September with a home game against Spain. They then face Croatia away from home on Friday 12th October and a few days later play Spain away in their third group game on Monday 15th October.
Their final group game is on Sunday 18th November at 3pm when they will play Croatia once again, this time at Wembley.
England v Spain Nations League Tips and Preview
England’s opener at Wembley is a tough one against a Spanish team that they have beaten just once in their last six matches (Spain winning three, with two games drawn). The teams last met in 2016, when Spain came back late on from 2-0 down to claim a 2-2 draw in one of Gareth Southgate’s first games in charge.
While England have retained their manager from the World Cup, Spain have replaced the interim coach Fernando Hierro, who stepped in when Julen Lopetegui was sacked from the post on the eve of the tournament, with former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique.
Enrique has already ruffled a few feathers by omitting Barcelona left back Jordi Alba from the squad, while he has also seen Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa withdraw from the squad for the game due to personal reasons.
England have kept faith by and large with the squad that served them well in the summer, with 18 of the 23 that travelled to Russia keeping their places. Phil Jones and Nick Pope are injured, while Ashley Young, Jamie Vardy and Gary Cahill have all been overlooked for younger players as Southgate seeks to blood some fresh talent.
Coming into the squad are Southampton keeper Alex McCarthy, James Tarkowski (Burnley), Luke Shaw (Man Utd) and Liverpool duo Adam Lallana and Joe Gomez.
What will be interesting to see is how both managers approach this new tournament. Will they view these as must-win games and play their strongest teams, or will there still be a sense of experimentation for the teams? Indeed it is only after these first few games have been played that we will get a sense of how the international teams in Europe are viewing this new tournament.
Our Tip – Spain are one of the favourites to win this first ever Nations League but England away is a big ask for them. That said, I am not sure England have enough quality to beat a very talented Spain team. This will be close but I think a 1-1 draw is the most likely outcome. You can back this bet now at bet365 Sport at odds of 21/10 on the draw or 5/1 if you back the 1-1 Correct Score option.