No sooner has one international tournament come to a close then another is firmly on the horizon. The recent events in Russia will take some beating as we were treated to a real festival of football and although this one may not have the same level of prestige, it will certainly create some intrigue.
That is because UEFA’s new Nations League gets underway next month, with its 55 members split across a number of divisions. The concept here is to make the dates previously set aside for international friendlies be used for something more substantial.
The early season friendlies have come in for criticism as of late, especially when off of the back of major international tournaments such as the World Cup or European Championships; the main issue being that star players that have only just recovered from their summer exploits are then whisked away again.
Therefore, with a more competitive element now in its place, it is hoped that the love affair with the international game that was once again reignited in Russia can carry over into the 2018/19 season and beyond.
The top tier is labelled as League A and is split into four groups of three teams. The format is relatively cutthroat as the group winner goes through to the four-team finals stage, while the team that finishes bottom sees them relegated to League B for the following year.
World Cup winners France find themselves in Group 1 in what could already be considered as ‘the group of death’; they have been paired alongside familiar foes in the shape of both Joachim Low’s Germany and the Netherlands, who have Ronald Koeman at the managerial helm.
The question that many are asking is whether France can add Nations League success to their recent victory in Russia. A look the current international football betting markets sees them as just second favourites, with bet365 putting Spain as the likely winners at a price of 4/1.
It could well be that the difficult group that France have been dealt is something that’s causing potential punters to look elsewhere, although looking at the two nations that Spain have been paired with, they don’t seem to have a much easier schedule.
La Furia Roja have been placed in Group 4 with not one but two World Cup semi-finalists from Russia. This means that are going to be mouthwatering clashes against both England and Croatia and again the winner goes to the finals stage, while whoever finishes third suffers an unwanted relegation.
This means there is no rest for the wicked as Gareth Southgate and his players will look to get over the bitter disappointment of not going all the way in Russia this summer. The question is can they use those performances as a launchpad to success further down the line.
It’s not going to prove easy against world class opposition but at the same time, it will give them the chance to exact some revenge over the Croatians, who knocked them out at the semi-final stage on their way to a final defeat to France.
With such fixtures as the ones mentioned above, it has certainly generated a lot of interest before the tournament gets underway in September. The battle lines have been drawn as the bid to become the first ever Nations League winners should prove to be an entertaining one.