Old acquaintances will be renewed next summer when England face Germany, Italy and Hungary in a formidable looking Nations League group, while Wales have a reunion with Belgium.
England harbour a long history with Germany but Gareth Southgate’s side beat them 2-0 in the last-16 of the delayed Euro 2020 last summer before losing the final to Italy on penalties. The general sense of deja vu will be only be heightened by the presence of another familiar opponent in Hungary in a tournament England’s coach regards as ideal preparation for next winter’s World Cup in Qatar.
“That’s the beauty of the Nations League, the brilliance of this competition is that the quality of the matches is so high,” said an undaunted Southgate after Thursday’s draw in Switzerland. “To play Italy again is a great challenge but I think the fire is burning in our group of players. This is the high-level opposition we wanted in a World Cup year. The high quality of the games is what helps the team improve; these are the matches we’ve learned most from. The key thing is you learn more about the group tactically. You get tested in every aspect of the game. And this is an opportunity to win a trophy.”
If Italy’s coach Roberto Mancini remains a familiar foe, Germany now have a new face at the helm in Hansi Flick. “England v Germany is an incredible historic fixture and with Germany having had a change of manager they’ve got some fabulous young players coming through,” said England’s manager.
“But we got a win against Germany in the summer so we are now starting to beat those teams. What we have got to do is beat them on a regular basis. That’s the next step. To win tournaments you’ve got to win the big matches against the biggest countries and we’ve now got to do that consistently.”
Crowd trouble at Wembley before the Euro 2020 final against Italy prompted Uefa sanctions dictating that England’s first Nations League home game will be played behind closed doors. Meanwhile Southgate can only hope there will be no repetition of events in Budapest when Hungary fans directed monkey chants at Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham and missiles were thrown from the stands in a recent World Cup qualifier. Although England won that night, Hungary held them to a draw at Wembley.
“We don’t know when the Hungary fixture will be played,” said Southgate. “Or if it might be the one that’s behind closed doors but we’ve got to understand it could be a difficult fixture. It’s another challenge but one we’ve got to respond to in the right way.”
Wales and Belgium have a seemingly magnetic attraction in tournaments and they join Poland and the Netherlands in another awkward looking Nations League A Group, with matches scheduled to take place in June and September. After that, the four Group A winners head to the finals in June 2023 and the bottom four teams drop into Nations League B for the competition’s next edition in 2024-25.
While Wales recently faced Belgium in World Cup qualifying, their most memorable meeting came in the quarter finals of Euro 2016 when Chris Coleman’s then side recorded the most famous win in their history.
Despite their significant recent progress under Steve Clarke, Scotland are currently ranked as a B League country and find themselves grouped with familiar foes in the Republic of Ireland in addition to Armenia and Ukraine. Down in the Nations League C section, Ian Baraclough’s Northern Ireland were drawn with Cyprus or Estonia, Kosovo and Greece.
France, the defending Nations League champions, will meet Denmark, Austria and Croatia, while the final A Group comprises Portugal, Spain, the Czech Republic and Switzerland.