Nations League draw renews old rivalries and English rematch with their Icelandic nemesis

By Samindra Kunti in Amsterdam

March 4 – Reigning European champions Portugal will meet the world champions France, who renew their rivalry with Croatia, in what looks to be the Nations League’s ‘Group of Death’. An ambitious Sweden make up the fourth group team.

“We got the toughest group possible but also the most attractive group and I am happy for Croatia. We have got the current World and European champions and Sweden who are a strong side,” said Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić. “This will be great build up for the World Cup qualifiers which will follow. Our aim will be to win the group.”

England drew familiar faces Belgium and the Nordic duo Denmark and Iceland in the draw for the 2020/21 Nations League.

Last summer, Gareth Southgate’s team finished third in the inaugural Nations League, a tournament UEFA introduced in a bid to strengthen the international game and provide more competitive fixtures. In the final four, England lost their semi-final against the Netherlands before defeating the Swiss in the third-place play-off.

Following the UEFA Congress in the Dutch capital, the draw for the tournament’s second edition landed England with Belgium, Denmark and Iceland. In 2018, the Belgians twice beat England at the World Cup in Russia. Iceland famously eliminated the Three Lions in the round of sixteen at Euro 2016, a result that marked the end of Roy Hodgson’s reign as England manager.

“There are some good matches,” said England coach Gareth Southgate. “It’s nice to play some different teams in competitive games. We’ve obviously had quite a few games with Croatia recently and with Switzerland.

“All of the groups are quite tough and a really good fixture with Belgium as well – a team we haven’t played as much in the last couple of years.”

Southgate, however, has his eyes firmly fixed on this summer’s European championship, but concerns remains about the match fitness of both Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford. The English kick off their campaign against Croatia on June 14.

“We’ve had really good updates right the way through and Harry and Marcus are exactly where we were expecting them to be,” said Southgate. “Both players will give themselves the best possible chance of being available, that’s their mentality and that’s their dedication to their sport.

“That’s the only bit we can guarantee, what we can’t guarantee is how that rehab will develop as it’s stepped up and as it becomes more intense. But they are both on track from the information we were given at the very start.”

The other home nations were all in League B. Scotland will meet Israel, their European Championship play‑off opponents, as well as Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Northern Ireland will face Norway, Austria and Romania. Wales and the Republic Ireland will meet in Group B4.

The 2020/21 Nations League edition kicks off in September, with group matches running until November. The final four will take place in June 2021. In a novelty, the tournament will offer a gateway to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The two highest-ranked Nations League group winners, who did not secure their World Cup ticket in the regular qualifying campaign, enter a 12-team play-off with the final three European places at the global finals at stake.

League A 

A1 – Poland, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Italy, Netherlands

A2 – Iceland, Denmark, Belgium, England

A3 – Croatia, Sweden, France, Portugal

A4 – Germany, Ukraine, Spain, Switzerland

League B 

B1 – Romania, Northern Ireland, Norway, Austria

B2 – Israel, Slovakia, Scotland, Czech Republic

B3 – Hungary, Turkey, Serbia, Russia

B4 – Bulgaria, Republic of Ireland, Finland, Wales

League C 

C1 – Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Montenegro

C2 – Armenia, Estonia, North Macedonia, Georgia

C3 – Moldova, Slovenia, Kosovo, Greece

C4 – Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Belarus, Albania

League D 

D1 – Faroe Islands, Latvia, Andorra, Malta

D2 – San Marino, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1603225259labto1603225259ofdlr1603225259owedi1603225259sni@t1603225259catno1603225259c1603225259