The group stage for the 2020/21 UEFA Nations League is underway and Europe’s best national teams are vying for the title.
Portugal are the inaugural and defending champions, having beated the Netherlands 1-0 in the final in 2019, thanks to Goncalo Guedes’ late strike. But before we get to the finals tournament, all 55 teams involved have to go through what is one of the game’s most gruelling group stages, which aims to put nations up against those of a similar level. But who are the favourites?
We’ve ranked the top 10 contenders as decided by percentage odds from SBK, and assessed their chances of winning the final tournament in October 2021.
*Odds correct as of 17:00 on 08/10/2020. You have to be 18+ and GambleAware to sign up to SBK.
- 2018/19 finish: 3rd in Group A4
- SBK Nations League odds: 2.38%
- Group stage opponents: Portugal, France, Sweden
The 2018 World Cup seems so long ago for the Croatian national team. The highs of reaching the final are no longer and ‘The Blazers’ have fallen quite a bit. In the inaugural Uefa Nations League group stage, they finished bottom of Group A4 behind Spain and England, and were only saved from relegation by a rejig to the competition.
They did then recover to secure their spot in Euro 2020 (now taking place in 2021), finishing top of Group E, three points clear of second-placed Wales. But back in Nations League action, Croatia are faltering again.
Given a frankly horrific group alongside Portugal, France and Sweden, Zlatko Dalic’s side are bottom of their group after two games, having lost heavily against both the defending European and world champions. But, this is Croatia, the constant dark horses of European football that no one ever likes to fully rule out.
- 2018/19 finish: 3rd in Group A3
- SBK Nations League odds: 3.70%
- Group stage opponents: Italy, Netherlands, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Another team saved from relegation thanks to the rejig, Poland finished bottom of A3 behind Italy and Portugal. And they are up against Italy once more this time around, but also have to deal with Netherlands and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
After their two games so far, Poland are third on three points, beating Bosnia but losing to Netherlands, placing them behind the Oranje on head-to-head. Poland are never really a team included in the favourites for competitions, often having a decent squad without any massive stars. But they have a Robert Lewandowski that appears to have been in his prime for several years now, and is in particularly devastating form right now. The Treble with Bayern Munich and a UEFA Player of the Year award were the icing on top of Lewandowski’s cake last season, and he will continue to be vital for Poland.
- 2018/19 finish: Winners
- SBK Nations League odds: 9.09%
- Group stage opponents: France, Sweden, Croatia
It may come as a surprise to some to see the defending Nations League champions, and reigning European champions, so low when it comes to reclaiming their title.
After years of going agonisingly close to glory, Portugal have certainly enjoyed the European cycles, with a fine mixture of youth and experience. Although Cristiano Ronaldo gets a lot of the headlines, the likes of Joao Felix, Diogo Jota, Ruben Dias, Andre Silva and Francisco Trincao are the new order, ready to take Portugal into the future. And they are in a good position for the Nations League, top of their group, though they do still have to play France twice.
- 2018/19 finish: Runners-up
- SBK Nations League odds: 9.52%
- Group stage opponents: Italy, Poland, Bosnia & Herzegovina
The Netherlands have enjoyed the past few years, recovering from their failure to qualify for the World Cup in 2018 to grow under Ronald Koeman. They reached the final of the inaugural Nations League tournament, only narrowly losing to Portugal and looked in good stead to grow for the future with a Euro 2020 place secured.
But they have been rocked by the departure of Koeman, who took charge of Barcelona, and are in somewhat uncertain times under Frank De Boer. Although Koeman lost his last game, against Italy in the Nations League, De Boer would have hoped to get off to a winning start in their recent friendly against Mexico. But it was another defeat, joined by a poor performance, and Netherlands will need to improve if they want to overthrow Italy in their group and return to the Nations League finals.
- 2018/19 finish: 3rd in Group A1
- SBK Nations League odds: 10.00%
- Group stage opponents: Spain, Ukraine, Switzerland
The 2018/19 Nations League was one to forget, as they finished bottom of their group, again only saved from relegation by the rejig. But the 2014 World Cup winners appear to be on the up again, with a young side growing under Joachim Low.
Their qualification for Euro 2020 was smooth, dropping just three points to top Group C ahead of Netherlands, with the likes of Timo Werner, Serge Gnabry and Joshua Kimmich all starring. The 2020/21 Nations League has been an interesting one for Germany so far, as they sit third in their group with two draws from their opening games. But they are still very much in contention with Group A4 being particularly tight. And this is Germany, you should never count them out.
- 2018/19 finish: 2nd in Group A3
- SBK Nations League odds: 11.63%
- Group stage opponents: Netherlands, Poland, Bosnia and Herzegovina
It has been a strange few years for Italy as they look to return to Europe’s top table, having missed out at the 2018 World Cup completely – the first time since 1958 that they weren’t involved.
But, after a second-placed finish in their 2018/19 group behind eventual winners Portugal, Italy are back in the Nations League and leading the way in Group A1 so far. Roberto Mancini has worked wonders since taking the job in 2018, reigniting the hope and belief of a nation that was dealing with a footballing identity crisis under Gian Piero Ventura. Like many of the nations in this list, Italy have worked youth into their set up alongside experience, having previously leaned towards the latter.
- 2018/19 finish: 3rd place
- SBK Nations League odds: 14.71%
- Group stage opponents: Belgium, Iceland, Denmark
Football was supposed to be coming home in 2018 when England reached the World Cup semi-finals, and they followed that up by winning their Nations League group ahead of Spain and Croatia. But they missed out on a final once again, losing to Netherlands before beating Switzerland for third place.
Qualification for Euro 2020 was straightforward, but the promise that Gareth Southgate’s side showed in 2018 appears to have faded. Instead, they have opened the 2020/21 Nations League with two disappointing performances. One brought a late and narrow win over Iceland, thanks to Raheem Sterling’s injury-time penalty, and the other a goalless draw with Denmark. But hopes are still high for England, as many feel this is their best squad for quite some time.
- 2018/19 finish: 2nd in Group A2
- SBK Nations League odds: 16.13%
- Group stage opponents: England, Iceland, Denmark
Belgium’s failure to reach the Uefa Nations League finals last time out came as a shock, as the Red Devils appeared to be hitting their peak, top of the world rankings and finishing third at the World Cup. But, after finishing second behind Switzerland, Belgium have found their stride once more and remain top of the world rankings.
They are also top of their group so far, winning their two games against Iceland and Denmark. Among the many stars they can call upon, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Thorgan Hazard have been particularly devastating for the Red Devils, while Eden Hazard remains a threat when fit. Belgium’s biggest roadblock on their route to the finals is England, but they beat the Three Lions twice in the past World Cup so will fancy their chances.
- 2018/19 finish: 2nd in Group A4
- SBK Nations League odds: 16.13%
- Group stage opponents: Germany, Ukraine, Switzerland
As previously mentioned, Spain finished second in their group last time out, dropping below England after their final-game win over Croatia. But La Roja are back and once again at least competing with the top nations in the world after going through a period of mediocrity.
With Luis Enrique at the helm, Spain are currently top of their Nations League group having beaten Ukraine 4-0 and drawn with Germany to secure a position of control early on. For Spain, there is talent spread across the ranks but La Roja are particularly strong in the midfield, with the likes of Thiago, Fabian and Mikel Merino all putting in good performances. And you just can’t keep Sergio Ramos down.
- 2018/19 finish: 2nd in Group A1
- SBK Nations League odds: 21.28%
- Group stage opponents: Portugal, Sweden, Croatia
The reigning world champions, France have arguably the most talented national pool of all the European countries, able to call upon a vast array of players across all positions.
They will have been disappointed to finish second in their group last time out, but that came during a low period following on from their World Cup win. Perhaps they were still feeling the celebrations? This time around they look drop drawer, and are only behind Portugal in their group on goal difference so far. With two games against Portugal still to come, there is every chance France can take control and may well be on the path to add another trophy to their cabinet.
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