England's Nations League kicks off soon

Nations League: Iceland and Denmark provide tricky test for England


England’s UEFA Nations League campaign gets underway this weekend against Iceland in Reykjavik.

It’s the first part of a double-header which also sees Gareth Southgate’s men face Denmark on Tuesday night in Copenhagen.

The last time England played in this competition they reached the semi-finals, before where they were eventually beaten 3-1 by the Netherlands.

But this is a new beginning for the Three Lions with several fresh faces coming into the squad ahead of the new Premier League campaign.

Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish has been called up to the England senior squad for the first time along with Conor Coady and Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

24-year old Grealish has previously represented England at Under-21 level and was a member of Southgate’s 2016 Toulon Tournament-winning squad.

Phil Foden, Kalvin Phillips and Manchester United duo Mason Greenwood and Dean Henderson could also win their first senior caps in the coming internationals.

However, Marcus Rashford and Harry Winks have pulled out of Gareth Southgate’s squad for the Nations League fixtures.

The disruption caused by coronavirus, which has seen Euro 2020 being delayed by a year, means England have not played since November 2019, when they beat Kosovo 4-0 in a Euro 2020 qualifier.

And the knock-on effect is still being felt with many of England’s party allegedly showing symptoms of Coronavirus and being told to self-isolate.

Just last week it was reported that no fewer than five England players had tested positive for Covid-19 over the summer, though some of those may now be able to join the training camp at St George’s Park.

Skipper Harry Kane is in quarantine after restrictions on visiting the Bahamas changed while he was there on holiday.

Meanwhile Harry Maguire has been excluded from the squad after his recent altercation in Greece.

Iceland clash will revive bad memories

Who could forget England’s last meeting with Iceland at the European Championships in Nice back in 2016?

What appeared to be a routine game for England in the last-16 turned out to be a nightmare as the minnows caused one of the upsets of the tournament with a 2-1 win.

This will be the third encounter between England and Iceland with the two sides drawing 1-1 in June 1982 followed by a 6-1 England win in June 2004.

But Iceland are a very different proposition these days, as that game in France demonstrated and Gareth Southgate will not be taking anything for granted on Saturday night.

They are unbeaten in their last three matches with two wins over Andorra and Moldova either side of an impressive draw away in Turkey to finish third in their group.

As a result, they now face Romani in a play-off semi-final which was originally scheduled for March as they look to qualify for their third major tournament in a row.

“When I took the job, many thought I was crazy,” said Iceland Coach Erik Hamren, whose team won six Euro 2020 qualifying games in a group with France and Turkey.

“Bigger countries than Iceland have had troubles to qualify for three in a row.”

Perhaps the biggest weakness when it comes to this Iceland side is their lack of goals in recent games despite a decent run of results.

In their last four matches, which has seen them win four, draw one and lose one, they have only managed six goals – a ratio of 1.00 per game.


Deadly Danes can’t be underestimated

England’s second game of the UEFA Nations League campaign sees them take on Denmark, a side who they last faced back in 2014 when a Daniel Sturridge goal was the difference in a 1-0 win.

In an international rivalry which dates back to 1948, the Three Lions boast an impressive record against the Danes.

Of the 19 games between the two England have won 12, drawn four and lost just three, the most recent being a 4-1 thrashing in a friendly back in 2005.

In the last staging of the UEFA Nations League, back in 2019, Denmark topped their group, finishing above Wales and Republic of Ireland with two wins and two draws from four matches.

Meanwhile, in their last three Euro 2020 qualifiers, they beat Switzerland 1-0 before thrashing Gibraltar 6-0 and securing a 1-1 draw with Republic of Ireland to finish second in Group D.

By far the biggest strength for the Danes during Euro 2020 qualification was their firepower in front of goal, scoring 23 times in eight games, though this is still some way behind England’s tally of 37.

Former Spurs player Christian Eriksen netted 5 times in their qualification matches while Christian Gytkjær chipped in with four and Martin Braithwaite contributed three.

But their coach Kasper Hjulmand is more than aware of how different things will be this time around saying: “There are many unpredictable elements in games at this stage of the season, where many players have barely started training for the new campaign.”

England's Nations League kicks off soon!


Having a bet?

England were ruthless in their Euro 2020 qualification campaign, winning seven and losing just one of their eight games as they easily topped Group A.

But the UEFA Nations League is a different prospect all together with many variables which punters should consider before placing a bet.

The tournament is getting underway amid much disruption and upheaval caused by the Covid-19 pandemic which has played havoc with the football calendar.

As a result, many Premier League players have had no or little preparation time with the season having only come to an end for some just a few weeks ago.

This has been reflected in terms of team selection with several high-profile withdrawals already as club managers rightfully have the best interest of their players at heart.

Combine this with two opponents who are no mugs when it comes to international qualification, one of which easily outplayed a full-strength England outfit the last time they met, and suddenly it’s not so straight forward.

It’s also worth remembering that the Icelandic League has been underway for some time now and players will be at the peak of their fitness having already got a decent number of games under their belts.

On the flip side, like the English Premier League, Denmark’s Superliga gets underway on September 13, meaning many of their players will also have one eye on domestic issues.

All factors which shouldn’t be overlooked by players as we head into one of the busiest and most congested fixture schedules ever seen both domestically and internationally.

But these are not issues which will solely impact the Nations League. The entire season ahead of us is sure to be like no other.

Empty stadiums, fixture congestion, Covid-related withdrawals and lack of preparation time will provide the sternest of tests, not just for players and coaches, but punters too.

Teams that are usually ruthless in front of their own fans suddenly might not be so potent when it comes to playing in empty stadiums.

A side whose strength is pressing from first whistle to last might find that a little more difficult with no real pre-season preparation to talk of.

Seemingly small details which could make a big difference to a bet that, 12-months ago, would have seemed straight forward to most of us.

England might be strong favourites for both these games, but the current climate means there is something of a new normal for football too – perhaps leading to greater value in the underdogs.

It’s a great betting event and one that requires plenty of homework as any responsible punter will know. The tournament is complex with plenty of things to consider, so it’s well worth taking the time to know exactly how it works.

Read our in-depth tournament guide here.

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