After a long break which lasted over the last few months (and we haven’t seen national teams on the pitch at European level since the final matches of the Euro 2020 qualifiers), international football is coming back this next Thursday. To whet the appetite, we have a match between Germany and Spain in the start of this new edition of the UEFA Nations League, of which Portugal are the title holders.

PORTUGAL STARTS THEIR TITLE DEFENSE AGAINST CROATIA

Champions of the first edition of this UEFA Nations League, created to reduce the schedule of friendly matches and increase the competitiveness of the teams, Portugal will begin their title defense next Saturday, at the Estádio do Dragão, in the city of Porto.

The team guided by the engineer Fernando Santos will have its first test, after the win in Luxembourg last November 17 (which served to confirm the Portuguese presence in the UEFA Euro 2021), against the team of Croatia, the runner-up in the World Cup final, who is still led by Zlatko Dalic.

France and Sweden are also in this Group 3.

For both matches against Croatia and Sweden (this second one on Tuesday 8th in Stockholm), the coach who guided the national team to the title at UEFA Euro 2016 promoted two debuts: Francisco Trincão (who has just left Braga for Barcelona) and Rui Silva (goalkeeper who played very well for Granada in 19/20).

PORTUGAL STARTS THEIR TITLE DEFENSE AGAINST CROATIA

In a list that does not include Ricardo Pereira, João Mário, Pizzi, amongst others present in the last call, the highlight goes to the inclusion of the main figure Cristiano Ronaldo, who has returned to work at Andrea Pirlo’s Juventus.

‘DIE MANNSCHAFT’ AND ‘LA ROJA’ IN DUEL FULL OF STARS

Despite the several novelties introduced by both national teams managers Joachim Löw and Luis Enrique in these Germany and Spain calls for this first Nations League matches, there will still be a lot of interest and big stars on the pitch at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Stuttgart.

The 2010 and 2014 World Champions will compete in Group 4 of League A, alongside Ukraine and Switzerland. In a format where only the winner of the group guarantees the qualification for the title playoffs, great enthusiasm is expected.

In next Thursday’s match, Luis Enrique’s calls of Adama Traoré (who will sadly miss the game after accusing positive to Covid-19) and Ansu Fati, are the highlights, not forgetting of course the other more experienced values like Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets or Thiago Alcantara.

On the German side, Joachim Low gave rest to almost all of the RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich players (except Niklas Süle), due to their participation in the “final eight” of the last edition of the Champions League, which took place in Lisbon.

Benfica’s Luka Waldschmidt was called up, in a list that also includes debutants Baumann (Hoffenheim’s goalkeeper), Gosens (Atalanta), Florian Neuhaus (M’Gladbach) and names like Timo Werner, Leroy Sané, Toni Kroos or Kai Havertz.

The forecast points out to an extremely balanced game, as we can see by the analysis of the winning market odds provided by Bet365: 2.40 for the victory of Germany, 3.25 for the draw and 2.82 for Spain to win.

FRANCE GET ON THE PITCH THIS SATURDAY AGAINST SWEDEN

Between the next September 3 and 8, there will not be a single day without matches counting to this new edition of the UEFA Nations League, which, as we already know, has four “divisions” with several groups each.

After Italy (hosts Bosnia-Herzegovina on Friday), Netherlands (hosts Poland on Friday) and England (faces Iceland on Saturday afternoon) play their matches, World Champions France, who are part of the same group as Portugal (with Sweden and Croatia), will play against the Swedes in Stockholm, at the Friends Arena.

FRANCE GET ON THE PITCH THIS SATURDAY AGAINST SWEDEN

This match will take place at the same time (19:45) that Portugal will face Croatia and the always strong Belgium face Denmark (Group 2 of League A).

Two of the highlights on Didier Deschamps’ squad list go precisely to the absences of Paul Pogba (Manchester United) and Tanguy Ndombelé (Tottenham), after the two players tested positive to Covid-19.

Houssem Aouar (Lyon), Eduardo Camavinga (17-year-old youngster from Rennes), and Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig), were called up for the first time for the French national team, which will only face Portugal next October.

The first two matches of ‘Les Bleus’ are, as I mentioned before, against Sweden and then against Croatia (on September 8th at 19:45) in Paris.

RUSSIA, SERBIA AND TURKEY TOGETHER IN LEAGUE B

The main names in European football are in this Nations League’s first division, having also Group 1 (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Italy, Netherlands and Poland) and Group 2 (Belgium, Denmark, England and Iceland), in addition to Groups 3 and 4, which I have previously focused on.

But we can’t be fooled in thinking that there are no good teams in the other divisions. The most striking cases I find, regarding League B, are those of Russia, Serbia and Turkey.

The Russians are in Group 3, along with Serbia, Turkey and Hungary.

In Group 1, the line up is made with Austria, Northern Ireland, Norway and Romania. Group 2 is composed of the Czech Republic, Israel, Scotland and Slovakia, while Group 4 includes Bulgaria, Finland, the Republic of Ireland and Wales.

In the third division (League C), the strongest name is the Greek National Team, which appears alongside Kosovo, Moldova and Slovenia in Group 3.

RUSSIA, SERBIA AND TURKEY TOGETHER IN LEAGUE B

In Group 1 are the national teams of Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Montenegro, while Group 2 includes Armenia, Estonia, Georgia and Macedonia.

In the group 4 of the League C, are Albania, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Lithuania.

The picture of this second edition of this new UEFA international competition is complete with the two groups left of the League D, where the lowest listed national teams in the European rankings stand.

In Group 1, Andorra, Faroe Islands, Latvia and Malta will compete for a possible League C promotion, while in Group 2, the dispute will be between the weaker sides of Gibraltar, Liechtenstein and San Marino.

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