France to play Italy and Belgium in Nations League

World Cup runners-up France, European champions Italy and Belgium will face off in the 2024-25 UEFA Nations League, while holders Spain will be favourites to win a group comprising Denmark, Switzerland and Serbia.

Israel were the fourth team drawn in Group A2 on Thursday alongside Didier Deschamps’ France following their promotion to the top tier for the first time.

“By the way it’s set up in League A, the best teams are there, so there will inevitably be these big matches,” said Deschamps, who coached France to victory in the second edition of the competition in 2021.

Croatia, who lost last year’s final to Spain on penalties, are in Group A3 with former winners Portugal, Poland and Scotland.

Euro 2024 hosts Germany meet the Netherlands in Group A3 along with Hungary and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

England will play the Republic of Ireland, Finland and Greece after Gareth Southgate’s team were relegated to League B. They avoided being grouped with Kazakhstan because of UEFA rules pertaining to excessive travel conditions.

“There’s some teams we haven’t played for a while, there’s going to be some difficult games for us,” said Southgate. “I think everybody in England will think it was a big disappointment to drop down to League B but you still have difficult games. Obviously our objective will be to win the group to try to get back up into League A again.”

England have not played Ireland in a competitive fixture since 1991 when they met in a European Championship qualifier. Crowd trouble forced a Dublin friendly to be abandoned four years later.

The two teams last met in a behind-closed-doors friendly in November 2020, when England won 3-0.

Wales are in Group B4 with Iceland, Montenegro and Turkey.

Each league contains four groups of four teams except for the bottom League D, which has six teams in total and just two groups. Russia remain banned due to the invasion of Ukraine.

The first round of matches is scheduled for September 5-7, with the group phase set to conclude in mid-November. The exact fixtures will be confirmed on Friday.

This Nations League will feature a new knockout round, with the winners and runners-up from League A groups taking part in two-legged quarter-finals. The winners of the four ties will advance to the finals.

All group winners in League B, C and D are automatically promoted, while the last-placed teams in League A and B will be relegated as before. The two worst-ranked teams in League C drop into League D.

There will also be play-offs between third-placed sides in League A and those finishing second in League B. The same ties will be played to determine further promotion and relegation between League B and C.

In addition, the two runners-up in League D now have the chance to climb up a level in a play-off with the two best fourth-ranked countries in League C.

© 2024 AFP