UEFA Nations League preview - Top class action in the Nations League
By Peter Auf der Heyde
When Europe’s governing football body UEFA
introduced the Nations League, they did so to enable countries to play
competitive matches in between major tournaments.
And a look at some of the fixtures of
matchday three and four in the competition, would suggest they have achieved
On Sunday the two leading teams in Group 3
of the top tier of the Nations League, France and Portugal, face each other in
the Stade de France in Saint-Denis.
Together with Belgium, they are the only
countries to have started their campaign with two wins in the Nations League A,
but with only the top team qualifying for the finals of the competition, there
is a lot at stake when the two meet.
Three days later, Les Bleus travel to Zagreb, for a rematch of the 2018 World Cup
final, which France won 4-2 against Croatia, who sensationally made it all the
way to the championship match.
Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, who missed
France’s opening games in the competition, has been recalled by coach Didier
Deschamps, after recovering from injury.
There was also some good news ahead of the
game for Croatian coach Zlatko Dalić, as authorities have said that they will –
as per UEFA regulations – allow 30 per cent capacity in the Maksimir Stadium in
As fans are not permitted to travel to away
matches, captain Luka Modrić and his team-mates are guaranteed of full support
during the game, which they need to win if they want to retain any chance of
But it is not only in Group 3 that fans can
look forward to some top class football, as the top ranked country in the
world, Belgium, face England, who are ranked fourth in Group 2.
Like the game between France and Croatia,
the fixture in Wembley Stadium on Sunday is a rematch from the World Cup, as Les Diables Rouges beat Gareth
Southgate’s team 2-0 in the play-off for third place.
Southgate has called up three newcomers to
his squad, including exciting Arsenal teenager Bukayo Saka, who turned down an
opportunity to play for Nigeria, opting instead to make himself available for
The 19-year-old is a versatile player, who
can play left-back or in a more attacking role, prompting Southgate to say:
“It’s an area of the pitch we’re keen to look at a different profile of player.
He can play a number of different roles very comfortably.”
Belgian coach Roberto Martinez has called
up his strongest side for the two games against England and Iceland, though
there is some doubt whether captain Eden Hazard will be able to play as he has
not fully recovered from an injury that kept him out of Real Madrid’s game on
But with Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku
in excellent form at the moment, the visitors will fancy their chances in
The top clash in Group 1 sees the
Netherlands away to Italy in Bergamo on 14 October. For Dutch coach Frank de
Boer, the game in Bergamo and the clash against Bosnia and Herzegovina three
days earlier are his first foray into international football, as he was only
appointed last month after Ronald Koeman’s sudden departure to take over
With games such as these, football fans
throughout Africa can look forward to seeing some world class players in action
on their screens as the matches are being broadcast live and in HD on the
Peter Auf der Heyde
Peter Auf der Heyde is an award-winning
football journalist and author, who covers the big European leagues. As a South
African by birth, he is particularly interested in the African connection
within European football and has covered 12 consecutive Africa Cup of Nations
tournaments live. Formerly head of sport at the English service of the German
Press Association, he is one of the leading Bundesliga experts.
Auf der Heyde played professionally for
Bosmont Chelsea in the South African top flight and now spends his time
migrating between South Africa, Germany and the UK.