Born in the south east of Ireland, Simon put his life-long love of football to good use when he started a successful independent blog in 2010. That opened up an alternative route to a career in journalism, and having had work published across a number of sites and publications, Simon joined the staff at Spotlight Sports Group in 2018.
The 2020/21 Nations League gets under way this week, kicking off a year-long skirmish for points, places and prestige in UEFA’s newest international tournament.
The competition, in its second iteration since its inception in 2018, pits some of Europe’s biggest and best against each other in a unique tiered group format, meaning that supporters get to enjoy some high-profile show-piece fixtures from the outset.
With spots at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar up for grabs, there are potentially rich rewards on offer for the countries that enjoy success in the Nations League, and that should ensure that every fixture between now and the competition’s finals in late 2021 are keenly contested.
Ahead of the action, we’ve taken a look at some of the favourites for glory in the Nations League, as well as a longer-priced dark horse pick worth watching.
Remember – we’ll be covering all of the action with detailed match previews and expert betting tips on our Nations League predictions page.
Nations League outright predictions
Odds: 4/1 (favourites)
Key player: Kylian Mbappe
One to watch: Eduardo Camavinga
Possible strongest starting XI: Hugo Lloris, Benjamin Pavard, Raphael Varane, Presnel Kimpembe, Ferland Mendy, N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba, Moussa Sissoko, Antoine Griezmann, Kingsley Coman, Kylian Mbappe
Didier Deschamps already had one of international football’s deepest pools of talent to choose from, however, since France’s World Cup winning campaign in 2018, a fresh generation of Les Bleus starlets have already started to emerge.
In RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano, Rennes’ Eduardo Camavinga and Lyon’s Houssem Aouar, France have a trio of Europe’s most highly sought-after young players, and with established stars like Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe and Raphaël Varane already in tow, the Nations League favourites have a potent blend of exciting youth and seasoned experience.
Having sailed through their European Championship qualification campaign last year, winning eight of their 10 games en-route to topping Group H ahead of Turkey and Iceland, this confident French outfit should prove difficult to stop.
Key Player: Kevin de Bruyne
One to Watch: Jeremy Doku
Possible strongest starting XI: Thibaut Courtois, Toby Alderweireld, Jason Denayer, Dedryk Boyata, Thomas Meunier, Thorgan Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Axel Witsel, Dries Mertens, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku
Belgium have been installed as the bookmakers’ joint third favourites to win the 2020/21 Nations League, however with their golden generation of players having made the transition to golden oldies, they are in danger of seeing another trophy pass them by.
While players like Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard still ensure there are pockets of star quality in the Red Devils’ ranks, finding adequate emerging replacements for ageing players in defence and midfield is proving difficult for Roberto Martinez.
Belgium did manage to maintain a perfect winning record in their European Championships qualification group last year, though the fact that they shared a weak section with some underwhelming opponents shouldn’t be ignored. Another campaign as the continent’s nearly men looks likely.
FST’s Pick: England
Key Player: Harry Kane
One to Watch: Mason Greenwood
Possible strongest starting XI: Nick Pope, Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire, Michael Keane, Ben Chilwell, Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson, Dele Ali, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane
After their incredible journey to the World Cup Semi Final in 2018, England maintained their positive momentum by topping Nations League A Group 4 in front of Spain and their World Cup conquerors Croatia later the same year, and despite finishing third in the UNL finals themselves, the Three Lions recovered to blitz their way to top spot in European Championship qualification Group A.
Gareth Southgate’s free-scoring side hammered home an eye-watering 37 goals in eight group matches during their sparkling campaign, with Spurs talisman Harry Kane and Man City attacker Raheem Sterling a particularly productive duo.
With self-belief starting to build after a couple of successive tournament near-misses, and the addition of Jadon Sancho, Mason Greenwood and Phil Foden to their already talented senior ranks, the landscape looks extremely favourable for England and a first piece of silverware under Southgate looks possible in the 2020/21 Nations League.
FST’s outsider tip: Germany
Key Player: Timo Werner
One to Watch: Kai Havertz
Possible Starting XI: Manuel Neuer, Matthias Ginter, Antonio Rudiger, Jonathan Tah, Joshua Kimmich, Nico Schulz, Toni Kroos, Kai Havertz, Serge Gnabry, Marco Reus, Timo Werner
“Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”
It was MOTD pundit Gary Lineker who coined that famous phrase about the Germans many years ago, and while the current Die Mannschaft squad might lack the big-hitting clout of their 2014 World Cup winning side, there is enough evidence to suggest that Germany are a huge price at 6/1 to win the 2020/21 Nations League.
In a removal from some of their more one-paced teams of yesteryear, Germany’s current crop wield some potentially devastating counter-attacking power with rapid runners like Tom Werner, Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry all capable of exploding forward at speed.
In Manuel Neuer, Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Niklas Süle, manager Joachim Löw can also call upon a quarter of recent Champions League winners, while Thomas Muller’s superb performances at club level have heightened hope of an international comeback.
Even without the original Raumdeuter, Germany have sufficient quality from both a tactical and technical perspective to make them an outstanding choice to win the Nations League at such relatively long odds.
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