Sports Journalist at FST, Gareth qualified as a journalist after graduating from university and spent over a decade as a freelance broadcast journalist, commentator and tipster before joining FST. Now living in Manchester, he is a long suffering Bolton Wanderers fan who also enjoys boxing, the NBA, tennis and rugby league.
The Nations League returns on Thursday for the third edition of this biennial international tournament.
France are the defending champions, while Portugal won the inaugural edition of the Nations League.
I’ve had a look over the odds and have put together a huge 564/1 group winners accumulator tip, and picked out a candidate to win the tournament outright. Read on to see who I’m backing and to place the bet.
Holders France look the team to beat
On the surface, the Nations League looks a tricky tournament to figure out as it remains to be seen just how seriously each country will take the event – particularly as we have a World Cup on the horizon.
Will the respective nations be focused on winning this competition? Or will they view the group stage games in June and September as preparation fixtures for the main event in Qatar?
I would suggest the latter, and that means Italy could be potential candidates to go all the way as they won’t be involved in the World Cup and as such may resist any urge to rotate in the Nations League itself.
However, the Azzurri have been drawn in a particularly tough looking Group 3 in League A alongside England, Germany and Hungary so are perhaps best avoided when looking for an outright winner, with the same applying to the Three Lions, Die Mannschaft and the Magyars for the same reason.
With only the top team from each group progressing, the best way to try and find a potential winner is to look at the four groups in League A and holders France have what looks to be the most favourable draw.
Les Bleus will come up against Croatia, Austria and Denmark in the group stages and I would expect them to top that pile. The semi-finals and finals will then take place next year so any tinkering in regards to the World Cup is no longer an issue, and despite being the favourites France still offer decent value at 10/3 to win the Nations League outright.
564/1 Group Winners Accumulator Tip
There are seven group winner markets to consider at the time of writing and I’ve put together a huge 564/1 accumulator with a winner from each group.
League A Group 1 – France
As stated above, France should have too much quality for their opponents in the group stages and they can finish at the top of the pile.
League A Group 2 – Spain
Spain finished as runners-up in the last edition of the Nations League and can earn the chance to go one better this time around by winning their group and reaching the semi-finals. La Roja have been drawn against Portugal, Switzerland and the Czech Republic in a tricky group, but one they can still top.
Portugal may choose to rest their big guns, particularly in the later games in September, ahead of the World Cup and Spain have greater strength in depth, so I’m siding with them here.
League A Group 3 – Italy
I may have shied away from backing Italy to win the tournament, but they look worth putting on this group winners accumulator at a big price to top Group 3. The Azzurri will be looking to make a statement against big guns England and Germany after missing out on a place in Qatar and can do so by finishing at the summit of this group.
League A Group 4 – Belgium
Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne recently stated he views the Nations League as “not important” and as “glorified friendlies”, but his team may still be able to go far in the tournament. Belgium reached the semi-finals last time and have been drawn in a group they should win, alongside the Netherlands, Poland and Wales.
League B Group 1 – Republic of Ireland
The Republic of Ireland are rated as the third favourites in their group, behind Ukraine and Scotland, and look good value to top the pile. Ireland have a chance to take an early lead as they play Armenia this weekend, while Ukraine and Scotland are involved in a World Cup play-off on Wednesday, and have been steadily improving since Stephen Kenny took charge.
League B Group 3 – Finland
The teams in the B level of the group stages are playing to either win promotion or avoid relegation and in Group 3 Finland could be the surprise packages. Finland finished ahead of group favourites Bosnia in World Cup qualifying and were particularly strong on the road during that campaign, which suggests they could come out on top in League B Group 3.
League B Group 4 – Serbia
Serbia are rated as second favourites behind Sweden in League B Group 4 but I don’t see any huge difference in terms of quality between those two teams. Serbia were outstanding in World Cup qualifying, winning six of their eight games and finishing ahead of heavyweights Portugal in Group A, and they can back that up by earning promotion to the top tier of the Nations League.
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