Match Day Four action in the newly introduced UEFA Nations League kicks off today with a number of countries out to atone for their Russia’2018 misadventure also acutely aware that the winning nation stands to pick up a cool 10.5m euros (about N4,284,000,000), notes TUNDE SULAIMAN
Match Day Four
Group A3: Poland v Italy (20:45)
Group B2: Russia v Turkey (18:00)
Group C1: Israel v Albania (20:45)
Group C4: Romania v Serbia (15:00), Lithuania v Montenegro (20:45)
Group D3: Azerbaijan v Malta (18:00), Faroe Islands v Kosovo (18:00)
Group A2: Iceland v Switzerland (20:45)
Group A4: Spain v England (20:45)
Group B3: Bosnia and Herzegovina v Northern Ireland (20:45)
Group C2: Estonia v Hungary (20:45), Finland v Greece (20:45)
Group D2: Belarus v Moldova (20:45), Luxembourg v San Marino (20:45)
Group A1: France v Germany (20:45)
Group B1: Ukraine v Czech Republic (20:45)
Group B4: Republic of Ireland v Wales (20:45)
Group C3: Norway v Bulgaria (20:45), Slovenia v Cyprus (20:45)
Group D1: Kazakhstan v Andorra (16:00), Latvia v Georgia (20:45)
Group D4: Armenia v FYR Macedonia (18:00),
Gibraltar v Liechtenstein (20:45)
The newly introduced UEFA Nations League enters Match Day Four today with a number of truly intriguing games taking place across Europe.
The stand out game of course this evening takes place in Chorzow where Poland hosts Italy hoping to atone for a very disappointing World Cup outing in Russia.
Poland went to Russia as one of the potential dark horses, not to win the trophy, but at least to make waves especially considering the fact that they were in a relativelly “easy” Group H along with Colombia, Japan and Senegal.
However, despite boasting the tournament’s in form striker in Robert Lewandowski, the Poles kicked off their World Cup campaign on June 19 with a shocking 2-1 loss to Senegal and then followed it up five days later with a 3-0 humiliation to Colombia before regaining some pride with a slim 1-0 win over Japan.
But it was too little too late as the European dark horses was one of the first sides to depart Russia.
Now the Poles are hoping to put the World Cup misadventure behind them and prove that their pre-Russia 2018 ranking of being the eighth best team in the world was not a fluke.
They kicked off their UEFA Nations League campaign on September 7 with a credible 1-1 draw against Italy and will be hoping to lift all three points this evening which will see them supplant Portugal at the top of the table with four points to the reigning European champions’ three, which they got courtesy of their opening game win over Italy.
For coach Jerzy Brzeczek, a member of Poland’s Barcelona 1992 Summer Olympics silver winning football team who took over from Adam Nawałka in August’ following their poor Russia 2018 outing, this will be his fourth match in charge of the Eagles and he will be hoping for a reaction after his side’s 3-2 home defeat to Portugal on Thursday.
Brzeczek’s side started off well scoring the first goal in the 18th minute through Krzysztof Piatek, before the European champions took a foothold and jumped into a 3-1 lead before surviving a late rally when Jakub Blaszczykowski pulled another goal back for the home side.
They will have to put the reversal behind them if they are to get the better of the Italians this evening.
But if Poland’s summer turned out to become a nightmare in Russia, Italy’s was even worse as the former three-time champion, whose last win was only 12 years ago in Germany, even failed to make it to Mundial this time around – the first time this would happen since Sweden’58.
Under new manager, Roberto Mancini, whose contract is incentive-based as his contract runs until 2020, however, he would be given an automatic extension if Italy qualify for UEFA Euro 2020, the Azzurri have continued to blow hot and cold.
On May 28 this year, Italy won their first match under Mancini, a 2–1 victory in a friendly over Saudi Arabia, however, they followed that up with a humiliating 3-1 reversal at the hands of newly crowned World Cup champions, France’ at the Allianz Riviera in Nice in a friendly played in June before securing a creditable 1-1 draw with Holland in another friendly played three days later.
However, in the opening match of the UEFA Nations League, the Azzurri could only muster a 1-1 draw with Poland before losing their Match Day Two game to Portugal 1-0 on September 10.
Mancini knows his side will be cast further adrift if they lose this evening which should make for an engaging encounter.
Both sides have met 15 times previously with the Italians holding the edge with five wins and only three defeats to the Poles.
On Wednesday, the Azzurri, however, failed to lift the spirits of their countrymen after playing a tepid 1-1 draw with Ukraine in an international friendly arranged as a tune up match for the Nations League assignment.
Federico Bernardeschi had put the home side ahead in the 55th minute only for Ruslan Malinovsky to draw Ukraine level seven minutes later. Mancini will be hoping for a much better performance from his wards this evening.
Twenty-four hours after the Chorzow fireworks, an even bigger encounter takes place at the Estadio Benito Villamarín, Seville, where Spain hosts England knowing that a win will consolidate their grip on the Group A4 table with a maximum nine points from three games.
Spain, who went into Russia 2018 as one of the pre-tournament favourites, however, saw their competition became a circus when the FA President, Luis Rubiales, decided to fire Julen Lopetegui just a day to the start of the competition, because the manager was going to join Real Madrid after the competition.
But under their former international skipper, Luis Enrique, who was appointed manager on July 9, the La Furia Roja (The Red Fury) has once again regained their swagger.
Under Enrique, a member of the gold-winning squad at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, kicked off their UEFA Nations League campaign on September 8 by beating Russia 2018 fourth placed finishers, the Three Lions 2-1 at Wembley before following up three days later with a clinical dismembering of World Cup 2018 silver medallists, Croatia 6-0!
Following this impressive display of almost non-stop attacking football, one should not be surprised should Gareth Southgate adopt a safety first approach in Seville, he definitely will not want the Three Lions to be blown away like the Croats were.
However, in the form the Spaniards are in right now, it will be difficult to see any other result than a win for the home side, even if it does not end in a basketball score line.
On Thursday, they further showed their improvement under Enrique with an emphatic 4-1 victory over Ryan Giggs’ Wales.
Both Spain and England have met 26 times previously with the Three Lions holding a slender three game advantage having won 13 to 10 for Spain.
Match Day Four concludes on Tuesday with another mouth-watering showdown involving world champions, France and Germany
Right now Les Blues under Didier Deschamps, a World Cup winner as a player in 1998, are on a roll, having stunned all to lift the World Cup in Russia over the summer.
Since then, they have held Germany to a draw in their opening UEFA Nations League game in Munich last month, and followed up with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Holland on Match Day Two at Saint-Denis.
On home soil they will fancy their chances of upstaging the former four-time World Cup winners to keep some daylight between them and the second-placed Germans in Group A1. As things stand, they top with four points while Germany is second with a lone point.
On Thursday, Les Blues showed their grit when they came from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Iceland in their tune up match for the encounter with the Germans.
Since the giddy days of the summer of 2014 when Die Mannschaft swept all before them in Brazil and then followed up with an impressive display with a mainly second-string team at the 2017 Confederations Cup, Joachim Low has struggled to get his side firing on all cylinders once again.
In fact Russia was their worst outing since 1938 after they finished bottom of the group with a solitary 2-1 injury time win over Sweden, before suffering the ignominy of being the first European side to lose to a South Korean team in the final group game, 2-0.
And the odds favour the home side because in 30 previous meetings, France has won 13 times to Germany’s 10; with most of the wins (eight in all) happening on home soil.
Below is a short explanation of what the UEFA Nations League is all about
A new national team competition that replaces friendlies with competitive matches, allowing nations to play against equally ranked teams. The four group winners of the top-ranked League A qualify for the UEFA Nations League finals in June 2019. For the remaining sides, there is promotion and relegation to play for, not to mention a potential route to UEFA EURO 2020.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The UEFA Nations League explained
The 55 associations were split into four Leagues according to their position in the UEFA National Team Coefficient Rankings. A draw was held in Lausanne on January 24 to further divide each League into groups of three or four. Teams play each other home and away in September, October and November. The group winners in Leagues B, C and D gain promotion and those who finish bottom of the groups in Leagues A, B and C are relegated. The next season is 2020/21.
What’s the trophy for?
Thought you’d never ask. As mentioned, the four group winners of League A qualify for the UEFA Nations League finals next June. The knockout tournament will be hosted by one of the quartet, with the draw in early December, 2018.
Where does UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying fit in?
EURO qualifying initially remains largely the same, at least until the play-off round. Previously contested by teams finishing third in their group, now that stage will involve the 16 UEFA Nations League group winners (or, if they have already qualified, the next best ranked team in their league – the video explains it best).
How the play-offs for UEFA EURO 2020 work
Each League has a path of its own, and will consist of two single-leg semi-finals and a one-off final. The winner of each path wins a ticket to UEFA EURO 2020.
The overall winning country will collect 10.5m euros (about 4,284,000,000), an increase from the original figure of 7.5m euros (about 3,060,000,000).
Each nation’s “solidarity payment”, is being increased by 50%, with more prize money also for the four league winners.
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