The UEFA Nations League Guide & Opening Games
As ever, no sooner has the English Premier League got into full-swing than it stops for some international matches. However, whilst in previous seasons these matches have been dull friendlies or low-grade World Cup or Euros qualifiers, we’re now being treated to UEFA Nations League matches.
What Is the UEFA Nations League?
The UEFA Nations League is the latest innovation from UEFA. It is a new international tournament that has been created to do away with friendlies that nobody wanted to watch and meant nothing. It will be held biennially in the years when there is no World Cup or Euros.
How the UEFA Nations League Works
55 European Teams are taking part in the UEFA Nations League, and these have been split into four different leagues according to their UEFA world ranking before the 2018 World Cup took place. Within each league, the teams will be split into four further groups. The winners of the four groups in league B, C, and D will respectively be promoted to Groups A, B, and C for the next Nations League competition that will take place in 2020. Meanwhile, the four lowest-placed teams in Groups A, B, and C will be relegated to Groups B, C, and D for the next competition. Meanwhile, the four Group Winners in League A will go forward to the semi-finals, with the winners battling it out in the final for the chance to be the first ever UEFA Nations League winners.
The UEFA Nations League 2018/19 Draw
Group 1: Germany, France, 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, Faro Islands, Malta, Kosovo
Group 4: FYR Macedonia, Armenia, Lichtenstein, Gibraltar
UEFA Nations League Matches Not to Miss
There are many exciting UEFA Nations League matches to look forward, including on the opening day (Thursday 6 September) when the last two World Cup winners France and Germany lock horns in their opening League A, Group 1 match. On Friday, it’s then the turn of Poland and Italy to do battle in their Group 3 Match. There are then two significant matches on Friday as Switzerland take on Iceland in Group B, and England play Spain in Group D.
France vs Germany (Thursday 7.45)
France have probably been unlucky in the draw, but they were only deemed good enough to be in Pot 2 when the draw took place. Of course, since then, Didier Deschamps side has won the World Cup in taking style and will be fancied by many to quickly double-up by winning the inaugural UEFA Nations League. However, after their lacklustre exit from the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Germany will surely be looking to bounce back quickly, and a victory over France would go some way to restoring German pride.
However, not only are France very much in the ascendancy right now, with Germany possibly looking to rebuild before the next major championship, but France have also proved the best team in recent encounters. Only a 93rd minute goal stopped France winning in Germany the last time the pair met in November 2017, be it a friendly. T
hey also won the previous two games, including a 2-0 win in the 2016 Euros semi-finals, and a 2-0 win in a home friendly in 2015. France have also arguably improved since, with a rock-solid defence and goalkeeper allowing the likes of potential Mbappe and Griezmann to enjoy a certain amount of freedom at the other end.
Therefore, bookies may have underestimated just how much this French side will want to rubber stamp their superiority and they look a big price to win in Germany.
Italy vs Poland (Friday 7.45)
The 2018 World Cup proved a bitter disappointment for a Polish side that would have fancied their chances of qualifying from a group comprising Colombia, Senegal, and Japan. They found the combination of pace and power just too much against Colombia and Senegal, but at least finished the tournament on a high with a win against Japan. However, at least they got to the World Cup Finals, which is more than Italy did.
The Italians, admittedly, were up against it having been drawn against Spain in World Cup qualifying but were still fancied to make it to the finals via the play-offs. That wasn’t to be though as Sweden gate-crashed the finals at the Italian expense. Since their failure to qualify, the Italians have also been unimpressive. They’ve lost to France and Argentina, drawn with England and The Netherlands, and scraped a 2-1 draw against Saudi Arabia. Therefore, though victory for Italy would come as no great surprise at home, they do look on the short side at odds-on.
Switzerland vs Iceland (Saturday 5.00)
Neutrals can only hope this is as much of a thriller as the last between the two teams, which ended 4-4 when they played each other in qualification for the 2014 World Cup. Since then, both teams have continued on an upward curve, with the Switzerland side comprising many of their excellent U21’s team from a few of seasons again. However, in the round of last-16 at the World Cup, the Swiss were anther team humbled by Sweden after going unbeaten in the group stages. That still looks slightly better form than Iceland who lost to both Nigeria and Croatia in the group stages after securing an opening draw against Nigeria. Iceland never stop trying though, so it would be no great surprise if they got something out of the game. Therefore, Switzerland are another team that look under-priced at odds-on.
England vs Spain (Saturday 7.45)
It’s probably fair to say that both teams missed a golden chance to at least make it to the finals at the 2018 World Cup. However, whilst Spain failed to meet expectations having been humbled by the host nation Russia, they also hadn’t looked that good in their matches against Portugal, Iran, and Morocco.
England were probably over-hyped though and, though as an Englishman it was fun to cheer them on at the World Cup, the current England side does look to be lacking the midfield class that the Spanish team has. However, England should have won the last time the two teams met though as, having taken a 2-0 lead in the 48th minute, they succumbed to two goals 89th and 96th minutes to end up drawing a friendly in 2016. That pattern is very similar to how England played at the 2018 World Cup though, where they were probably the better team in the early part of their matches but really floundered towards the end. Therefore, it might be worth an England/Draw bet in the half-time/full-time market.
UEFA Nations League Betting
Spain 9/2, France 5/1, Belgium 11/2, Germany 11/2, Italy 12/1, England 12/1, Portugal 18/1, Croatia 16/1, Switzerland 33/1, Poland 50/1, Netherlands 66/1, Iceland 80/1
UEFA Nations League Outright Winner Tip
If you fancy France to beat Germany and progress to the semi-finals, the 5/1 about them winning the UEFA Nations League looks way too big.
Tip: France @ 6.00 888Sport, BetVictor, PaddyPower