Nations League games offer last chance to prepare for World Cup

Kylian Mbappe and France warm up for World Cup defense by playing Austria and Denmark in Nations League

Kylian Mbappe and France warm up for World Cup defense by playing Austria and Denmark in Nations League

PARIS – A hectic schedule of club football leading up to the World Cup is paused this week as national teams are given one last chance to fine-tune their preparations before heading to Qatar for the start of the tournament on November 20.

Hosting the World Cup in the middle of the European season has major consequences for clubs, but also for national team coaches.

While domestic competitions are bearing the brunt of the upheaval in the calendar, having to pause a week before the opening game in Qatar, it also means teams have little or no time to work together before the start of their World Cup campaigns.

As such, particular importance will be attached to next week’s events as European teams complete the group stage of the UEFA Nations League while other rivals play friendlies, including back-to-back matches for Brazil on French soil against Ghana and Tunisia.

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– French concerns –

Reigning world champions France are preparing to defend their crown won in Russia in 2018 while avoiding relegation from the top flight of the Nations League.

Les Bleus, who won the Nations League last year, host Austria on Thursday and visit Denmark on Sunday to win both games to be sure of staying in League A.

But France coach Didier Deschamps is struggling a number of times, not least of which are injuries to key players such as Paul Pogba – he is recovering from knee surgery which has left him in a race against time to get fit for Qatar.

“He will do everything to get fit as quickly as possible despite the lack of time,” Deschamps told TF1 on Sunday.

It’s also too early to tell if a row between Kylian Mbappe and the French Football Federation over image rights could hurt team morale as the Paris Saint-Germain star refused to attend a photoshoot on Monday.

France’s latest squad includes several new faces hoping to take their chance to impress before the final lists have to be submitted to FIFA by November 13.

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– Toney gets England chance –

England manager Gareth Southgate has given Brentford striker Ivan Toney a chance as the Euro 2020 runners-up play Italy and Germany in the Nations League A3.

Like France, England suffered a string of poor results in June and so realistically need to win both games to avoid relegation to League B.

But Southgate will rule an expanded 28-man squad with Qatar in mind.

“Part of the reason is that we’re very close to a World Cup and we feel that although our results were disappointing over the summer we’ve been selecting based on form and ability over a long period of time,” Southgate said last week.

Spain and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal will warm up for the World Cup by meeting in Braga on September 27 in a game that could decide which of their Iberian neighbors advance to the Nations League finals next June.

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Meanwhile, Wales manager Robert Page, fresh from signing a new four-year contract, has called up Los Angeles FC’s Gareth Bale to his squad for the games against Belgium and Poland.

Wales are also expected to be relegated from the Nations League group but that won’t worry them too much before they return to the World Cup stage for the first time since 1958.

Notable UEFA Nations League fixtures this week (kick-off 1845 GMT)


Group A1

France versus Austria

Croatia vs Denmark

Group A4

Belgium vs Wales

Poland vs Netherlands


Group A3

Germany vs Hungary

Italy vs England


Group A2

Spain vs Switzerland

Czech Republic vs Portugal

Group B4

Serbia vs Sweden


Group A1

Austria vs Croatia

Denmark vs France

Group A4

Netherlands vs Belgium

Wales vs Poland

Monday, 09/26

Group A3

England versus Germany

Hungary vs Italy

Tuesday, 09/27

Group A2

Switzerland versus the Czech Republic

Portugal vs Spain

Group B4

Norway vs Serbia

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