After the success of the annual 2018/19 UEFA Nations League, the tournament will now enter its second season. The competition has received some new format changes ahead of the 2020/21 season, where groups will now be comprised of four teams instead of three. This means that Germany will retain their place in League A. There will also be a relegation play-off between the countries placed in League C.
UEFA’s 55 members will compete in several groups dispersed over four leagues to determine the next champion of Europe. The tournament has also been incorporated into the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification process, and with everything to play for, these teams will seek to impress their international audience as they watch them compete in this competition.
Following the announcement of their squads, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and Ukraine will look to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, as well as advancing to the UEFA Nation League’s 2020/21 finals. How might these teams fare in League A’s Group 4?
League A, Group 4 Breakdown:
The four-time FIFA World Cup winners struggled in the inaugural 2018/19 UEFA Nations League. The Germans were paired with the Netherlands and France, where die Mannschaft failed to win a single match in four games. Due to their poor performances, Germany were initially supposed to be relegated to the competition’s League B. A recent restructuring of the tournament, however, means that Germany will remain in League A.
Fortune seems to be on the side of the Germans. During the EURO 2020 qualification period, die Mannschaft dominated their group. Most recently, German domestic club Bayern München won the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League, meaning the national team should have a strong squad. Based on these accomplishments, the Germans are in a good position ahead of this competition.
Player to Watch:
Serge Gnabry was Germany’s top scorer during the EURO 2020 qualification period in Group C, where the German striker scored eight goals in eight qualification matches. He has also scored 13 goals in 13 national team appearances, meaning has been superb for die Mannschaft. Gnabry will be absent from Germany’s opening two fixtures, but he will still play an important role later on in the competition as his national team look to win the group.
Spain performed well during the 2018/19 UEFA Nations League, where they were paired with England and Croatia. La Roja were on course to make the inaugural Nations League finals, but an unexpected loss to England on Matchday 3 meant they missed out. Despite not advancing to the knockout stages of the competition, Spain retained their place in League A.
As for the EURO 2020 qualifiers, la Roja dominated Group F, where they won eight of their ten qualification matches and drew the remaining two. Spain have not been as menacing as they were during the 2008 and 2012 European Championships and the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but they are still a talented side that will challenge for the top position of League A’s Group 4.
Player to Watch:
Throughout his time with the national team, Sergio Ramos has played an instrumental role for Spain. His defensive capabilities played an important role in Spain’s success at these competitions as they won the 2008 and 2012 European Championships and the 2010 FIFA World Cup. While not the most disciplined player, his defensive abilities and his commitment to the national team are unquestionable. Ramos is likely approaching the end of his career with the national team, and he will hope to add at least one more piece of silverware to his cabinet before he retires from international football.
Switzerland were placed in League A’s Group 2 during the inaugural 2018/19 UEFA Nations League. The Swiss defeated Belgium and Iceland to top their group and advance to the competition’s knockout stages. Switzerland then faced Portugal in the semi-final stage, although the Rossocrociati were defeated by the Navigators, the competition’s eventual winners. Despite their elimination, the Swiss retained their place in the tournament’s League A.
During the qualifiers for the 2020 European Championships, Switzerland topped Group D by overcoming the likes of Denmark and Ireland. The Swiss will hope to transfer their success from the EURO 2020 qualification period to the 2020/21 UEFA Nations League.
Player to Watch:
Granit Xhaka consistently put in good performances for Switzerland during their Euro 2020 qualification campaign. The veteran midfielder helped his side dictate the run of play in midfield, and his contributions helped his national team win their EURO 2020 qualification group. Xhaka will now look to transfer his success from the EURO 2020 qualifiers to the 2020/21 UEFA Nations League as Switzerland hope to make the competition’s knockout stages for a second consecutive season.
Ukraine won their group in the inaugural 2018/19 UEFA Nations League. Paired against the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the Zbirna won three of their four matches and kept two clean sheets in four games. Their success mean they would be promoted from League B to the competition’s prestigious League A. Ukraine will now face Europe’s heavy hitter in League A.
The 2019 calendar year was also one of Ukraine’s strongest football seasons as an independent country. The Zbirna went undefeated for the entire year, and they went undefeated in their EURO 2020 qualification group. Ukraine topped their qualification group over the likes of Portugal and Serbia, and they kept five clean sheets in eight matches. They might have even been a surprise contender at the 2020 European Champions had they not been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ukraine will now test their luck in the UEFA Nations League A.
Player to Watch:
Andriy Yarmolenko was Ukraine’s player to watch during the 2018/19 UEFA Nations League, and he will retain this role for the 2020/21 competition. The Ukrainian winger is his national team’s second-highest top scorer, where he has scored 37 goals in 86 national team appearances. He is currently on course to overcome Andriy Shevchenko’s goal scoring record, although recent injuries have plagued his season in England. While Ukraine will face difficult opponents in League A, the opportunity to potentially overcome Shevchenko’s record while also playing against some of Europe’s top talent should encourage him to try and achieve this goal.
League A, Group 4 Predictions:
Germany – Group 4 winners, advance to the 2020/21 UEFA Nations League’s semi-final
Spain, Switzerland – Retain their place in League A
Ukraine – Relegated to League B
Top goal scorer – Serge Gnabry (Germany)
Most clean sheets – Yann Sommer (Switzerland)
Mark Temnycky is an AIPS accredited journalist who covers the Ukrainian men’s national team and Ukrainian clubs competing in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League for the Futbolgrad Network. Follow him @MTemnycky