International football in Europe finally returns after Euro 2020, which was scheduled to take place this year, has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With competitive football being a must, the second season of the UEFA Nations League gets underway on Thursday. International coaches have opted to pick relatively strong squads for the upcoming Nations League games, so without further ado, let’s get straight into the action!
Photo Copyright – Steve Haag Sports
Thursday 3 September
It’s been an incredible time for German football in recent weeks. Since Hansi Flick left Joachim Low with the national team, he went on to join Bayern Munich, winning the treble with the Bavarians for the first time since 2013. It remains to be seen how Low will cope without Flick besides him, although, in terms of personnel, its pretty much the same team. The likes of Leon Goretzka, Serge Gnabry, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz and many others are coming off the back of their best season in football. Germany and Spain are two of the last three World Cup winning teams, and right now, you could argue that they boast the two best managers in international football.
Since Luis Enrique’s return to Spain, the nation will be confident of competing for top honours again. Their goalkeeping department looks atrocious at the moment, but there’s plenty of positive signs higher up the pitch. The key battle here will be in midfield where Enrique will be hoping the likes of Rodri, Fabian Ruiz and Thiago Alcantara, who knows all about German football, will come to his rescue. Adama Traore and Ansu Fati have also been awarded a national team call-up for the first time after excellent individual seasons at Wolves and Barcelona respectively. With Spain’s goalkeeping department giving me very little hope of stopping the likes of Leroy Sane, Gnabry and Werner, I’m putting my money on the Home Totals – Over 1.5 Goals at 5/4.
Friday 4 September
Friday evening sees Lithuania and Kazakhstan battle it out in a fiercely contested tie with both nations desperate to get off to a perfect start. In Group C4, they have it fairly favourable alongside Belarus and Albania, so early points on the board are key. Lithuania have won just one of their last 20 games, while Kazakhstan have only beaten San Marino in their last six encounters. Perhaps the betting seems fair here as neither side are considered favourite. I’m backing a draw.
Bosnia & Herzegovina 7/1
Italy seem to be dark horses of the UEFA Nations League tournament. Roberto Mancini is slowly getting them back to where they belong on the international stage, building an exciting brand of football with the national team, something that hasn’t always been likened with Italian football. The Azzurri are unbeaten in 14 matches and have won a staggering 11 games in a row. Italy most recently met Bosnia & Herzegovina in the qualifying stages of Euro 2020, winning 2-1 in Turin, then 3-0 in Sarajevo. The home win looks a certainty here.
All eyes will be on Netherlands in the UEFA Nations League group games as they prepare for life after Ronald Koeman who departed to join Barcelona as head coach. Dwight Lodeweges, who was Koeman’s assistant, has worked with the team for over two years which means we could see more of the same from the Dutchmen. Jerzy Brzcczek, Poland’s head coach, has decided to leave Robert Lewandowski out of the team, giving him an extra rest after yet another outstanding season at Bayern Munich. Without him, Poland are not the same. My money is on Holland here at 11/20.
Northern Ireland 49/20
Being the underdogs in Group B1, both Romania and Northern Ireland will be desperate to kick-start the Nations League season off on a positive note. Of course, after a year without international football, form cannot be taken seriously, but Northern Ireland did have a few positives results, including a win over Czech Republic, while they also held Netherlands to a goalless draw. The Irishmen did win five in a row from March to September as well. I fancy the visitors on the Win/Draw Double Chance at 6/10.
Norway will be hoping the extended break of international football didn’t disrupt their progress as the Lions were on an incredible run of nine games without defeat. The Norwegians are also on an amazing run of four years without losing a home encounter.
Austria are also on a decent run themselves, losing just one of their last eight matches, winning six times in that run. The Austrians haven’t named the best of squads though, while Erling Haaland will be raring to go for Norway. The home win seems the best bet at 31/20.
Scotland were starting to find form and build momentum in the last international break, winning three matches on the bounce. It also helps Steve Clarke’s case that many of his players come off the back of a fantastic season, most notably Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney and John Fleck.
The results certainly weren’t going Israel’s way before the last international break, with the Blue and Whites winning just one of their last seven ties. Based on that, its hard to see them getting anything against Scotland. Take the hosts at 8/10.
Czech Republic 17/10
It’s always entertaining when Slovakia and Czech Republic meet in competitive ties. Back in 2018, they were paired in the same Nations League group with Czech Republic winning both ties 2-1 and 1-0. Coming into the game, both nations have lacked consistency, although goalscoring hasn’t been a problem – even in some of their defeats. My money is on the Czechs to Win or Draw & Both Teams to Score at 17/10.
Belarus host Albania at the Stadyen Dynama in Group 4 of League C. The Albanians – captained by Napoli’s Elseid Hysaj – sit 35th in the European rankings and two places above the hosts, but the Belarusians are favourites in this tie. The White Wings won both of their friendlies in February against Uzbekistan and Bulgaria, both by 1-0 scorelines, while this will be Albania’s first match in 2020 after their March friendlies against San Marino and Slovenia were cancelled. I’m backing a win for the hosts.
Saturday 5 September
San Marino 8/1
As much as San Marino are awful – they haven’t won a match since 2004 when they beat Liechtenstein 1-0 in a friendly – Gibraltar shouldn’t be 7/20 against any team. They’ve lost their last 12 games in a row and found the net in just three of those matches. I suggest you steer clear of this one, but if you must have a punt, the Half Time Draw looks a decent bet at 27/20.
North Macedonia 15/20
North Macedonia are favourites to see off Armenia, who are without their captain and talisman Henrikh Mkhitaryan, at the Tose Proeski Arena. The Red Lions won their last two home ties, beating Slovenia and Israel in the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifiers. Armenia have lost their last three matches in a row, including a heavy 9-1 defeat away to Italy last time out. The home win is the way to go.
Cyprus host Montenegro at the GSP Stadium in Group 1 of League C. These sides have cancelled each other out in each of their last three meetings and I fancy that trend to continue. Back the stalemate at 39/20.
Georgia take on Estonia at the A. Le Coq Arena in Tallinn. The hosts are winless in eight matches with seven defeats and should struggle against Georgia. The visitors ran out 2-0 winners when the sides last met in a friendly back in March 2018. Back the away win at even money.
Azerbaijan host Luxembourg at the Baku Olympic Stadium in Group 1 of League C. The hosts, who are on a three-match losing streak, are targeting their first win in Baku since beating Faroe Islands 2-0 in the UEFA Nations League two years ago. Gianni De Biasi’s side will be confident of beating the Red Lions, who are winless in 10 matches – losing eight times. Back the home win at 21/20.
England are strong favourites to see off Iceland on Saturday, but they’ll need to be wary of the upset-threat posed by Erik Hamren’s side. Gareth Southgate’s team have won their last three matches without breaking a sweat, thrashing Bulgaria, Montenegro and Kosovo in the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifiers. Iceland are also riding a three-match winning streak with wins over minnows Moldova, Canada and El Salvador. The hosts will provide stern test for the Three Lions, but I still can’t see anything other than an England victory.
The Danish Dynamite face a daunting test on Saturday when they host Roberto Martinez’s star-studded Belgium, the number one ranked team in the world. With the world class quality of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne and in-form Romelu Lukaku, the Red Devils should oust their opponents and secure an 11th consecutive win.
France will travel to Sweden for their opening Nations League game on Saturday. Unsurprisingly, Didier Deschamps’ men head into the encounter as firm favourites at 8/10, but the Swedes will relish the chance to get a victory over the world champions. Both teams are in good form, but Les Bleus have a star-studded squad, headlined by PSG’s Kylian Mbappe. A tight affair is expected, with France tipped to grind out the victory.
Holders Portugal will look to get their Nations League on a winning note when they take on Croatia on Saturday. The Vatreni will be without Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, which makes facing the Selecao an even tougher task. With Croatia’s key men missing and Portugal at full strength with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva and Joao Felix, Fernando Santos’ side should see off the Croatians in Porto. The home win is tipped confidently.