In the inaugural edition of the competition, England topped a tight group consisting of themselves, Croatia and Spain to reach the Nations League Finals in summer 2019. There, they suffered a poor defeat to the Netherlands in the semifinal, before beating Switzerland on penalties to secure bronze medals.
England fans know the team have a recent history against all three of these sides, or will have by the time they face each other at least.
England will host Denmark in a friendly match in late March, and last played the Scandinavian outfit in another Wembley friendly in March, winning 1-0 in 2014 under the management of Roy Hodgson.
Unfortunately, the team’s recent record against Iceland is the most harrowingly memorable of all. The nation of less than half-a-million people knocked Hodgson’s England out of Euro 2016 of course, England failing to come from behind with just 18 minutes gone in the Round of 16 tie.
The competition starts on 3rd September, and includes four leagues, just as last time. England will face all three of their group opponents both home and away over the September, October and November international breaks of 2020. League A – England’s – includes Europe’s 16 best-ranked teams, League B the next best 16, the same for League C, and the worst-ranked seven find themselves in League D.
Group winners will be promoted to the league above (if possible) and losers relegated (if possible). League A’s group winners will come head-to-head in the 2021 Nations League Finals. That was the situation for Portugal, Switzerland, the Netherlands and, yes, England in 2019.
On England’s chances of making the Finals, Belgium clearly stand as the closest challengers and potentially the favourites. That said, the likes of Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford know all too well to write off Iceland at their peril. Denmark can be a force too, having qualified for Euro 2020 and recently beaten the world’s 12th ranked side, Switzerland.
In the other League A groups; the Netherlands will face Italy, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Poland; whilst defending champions Portugal will play World Cup winners France, as well as Sweden and Croatia. In the final group, Spain and Germany join Switzerland and the Ukraine.
England’s double-header of friendlies in March will end with that home tie against Denmark. But the Three Lions are at Wembley just four days before as well, facing Italy in a match dedicated to The Duke of Cambridge’s Heads Up campaign.
Next come the final games before the European Championships. England face Austria in Vienna, before hosting Romania at Villa Park.
“We found it a really good competition last time. There was excitement, playing those top matches rather than having friendlies.”Gareth Southgate
It’s only then in September that the Nations League will begin again, but it gives Gareth Southgate and his dedicated team of analysts plenty of time to scout and discover the ways these three sides work.
England, Belgium, Denmark and Iceland will compete in Nations League group A2, but only one team can reach the Finals of 2021. There is lots of work to be done throughout the remainder of this season first, not least the Euros, but when it comes to the it, players and fans will turn their attentions back to what has to be UEFA’s best invention in recent memory.