Nations League: What’s at stake for England during this week’s international break?
The frenetic pace of the domestic football season yields to the international break this week but, with a Nations League group stage to wrap up, the action will continue to come thick and fast.
England are among several high-profile teams fighting to preserve their top-tier status in the competition, while results from the final two rounds, which take place over the next seven days, will also have a bearing on next year’s qualifiers for Euro 2024.
Last and by no means least, the forthcoming Nations League fixtures also represent the last opportunity to tune up for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, now less than two months away.
How are England doing in the Nations League?
Not well. Gareth Southgate’s team are bottom of Group A3 with just two points from four games and may need the maximum return from two tricky remaining matches to avoid the ignominy of relegation to League B.
England travel to Milan to face their Euro 2020 final conquerors Italy on Friday in a contest that they cannot afford to lose, before hosting Germany at Wembley on Monday. Winning the group and reaching next year’s Nations League finals is already out of reach.
A string of lethargic displays in June suggested fatigue following a long season but, just weeks into the new campaign and with a major tournament on the horizon, there can be no such excuses this time.
Who else is struggling?
Yes – England weren’t the only big team who failed to get up for the four Nations League fixtures shoehorned into the start of the summer.
Group rivals Italy only have five points and the European champions, who failed to reach the World Cup, will find themselves bottom with one game to go if the Three Lions can upset them at the San Siro.
World champions France, meanwhile, have also had a shocker. Like England, they have taken just two points so far and need a swift reversal in remaining matches with Austria and Denmark to avoid demotion.
Who is doing well?
Hungary have been the biggest surprise package of this Nations League, winning home and away against England – including a 4-0 thumping in Wolverhampton – to top Group A3.
Denmark have continued their upward trajectory by leading A1 ahead of Croatia, Austria and France, while Spain appear to be back in the ascendancy at the head of A2.
And the Netherlands have gone from strength to strength under Louis van Gaal, racking up 10 points with wins over Belgium and Wales (twice) to set the pace in A4.
What about the other Home Nations?
Wales have struggled in the top division, with just one point from four games so far, and relegation back to League B looks likely.
Scotland are in the hunt for promotion from the second tier of the Nations League and face Group B1 leaders Ukraine in a postponed match on Wednesday night. The Republic of Ireland appear safe in third place of the same group.
Northern Ireland and Cyprus, with two points apiece, are fighting to avoid slipping out of Group C2 and into the bottom tier.
What is at stake in the Nations League?
This window will conclude the group stage, deciding who advances to the finals and which teams are to be promoted or relegated for the 2024-25 edition.
But it also affects qualification for Euro 2024 in more than one way. As well as playing next summer’s Nations League finals, all four A League winners will benefit from being drawn into qualifying groups with just five teams instead of six.
And group winners from lower tiers who do not otherwise qualify for Euro 2024 have a second chance to grab one of three extra places via play-offs.