The football action in Europe continues following Real Madrid’s Champions League victory as France begin their UEFA Nations League title defence. The decision to move the World Cup to Qatar at the end of the year could have given the players an opportunity to extend the off-season, but instead the international action will continue until the middle of the month with teams playing up to four matches. each. Worries over burnout are already on the agenda, with global players’ union FIFPro last week sounding the alarm and saying professionals should play no more than 55 games per season.
For the Turkish national team, the campaign will be mixed against minnows, who could still have the upper hand as Turkey have performed poorly in previous editions of the international competition. In League C, the team will first face the Faroe Islands on June 4, before matches against Lithuania on June 7 and 14 and against Luxembourg on June 11. German coach Stefan Kuntz said the process was “complicated” but they were “focused” on winning. “We are going to play four games, at short intervals. It’s complicated. But it can give us access to the European Championship. I know it’s not easy for the players to focus on the team’s games at the end of the season in their leagues. But they have to keep in mind that they will face the best line-ups of other national teams. They shouldn’t think about the holidays. They will have plenty of time after that.” he said at a press conference in Istanbul earlier this week.
Liverpool and Scotland defender Andy Robertson has already played this number before joining his country for Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier against Ukraine. If Scotland win, they will face Wales in Cardiff on Sunday for a place in Qatar, but they still have to play three more Nations League matches afterwards, two against Armenia and one against Republic. from Ireland in group B1. “It’s a lot after an intense season for everyone,” Robertson said recently. “You’re asking the boys to have eight or nine days off, which I don’t think is fair.”
After winning the Champions League, Karim Benzema joins the France squad as they prepare to play four matches in Ligue A, Group 1. The World Cup holders entertain Denmark on Friday before a double-header against Croatia on either side of a trip to Austria. Didier Deschamps’ side will be preparing their World Cup defense but they will also be defending the Nations League crown they won last October by beating Spain in the final in Milan. Benzema scored in this game after recently returning to the international fold after an exile of more than five years. The favorite to win the Ballon d’Or this year, his relationship with Kylian Mbappe in the French attack will be one to watch closely.
European champions Italy, Germany and England are all in Group A3 with Hungary, and Gareth Southgate’s side will play away games against Germany in Munich and home against Italy in Wolverhampton. That final match, on June 11, will be played behind closed doors as punishment after the fan unrest that marred last year’s European Championship final at Wembley. On both sides of these matches, England play two games against Hungary, the first of which will take place in Budapest on Saturday.
South American teams to join?
Other notable Nations League fixtures include Spain hosting Portugal in Sevilla in Group A2, and the encounter between Belgium and neighboring Netherlands in Group A4. This is the third edition of the Nations League, which was won by Portugal in 2019 after being started to replace meaningless friendlies.
Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland and Wales have all declared their interest in hosting the semi-finals and final of the tournament in June next year. After that, it is possible that South American teams will join an expanded version of the competition.
“We are discussing it and it is a possibility but at the moment we are not very concrete,” UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin told AFP last week. “European national team coaches are not happy because they don’t play South Americans in friendlies anymore, and South Americans even more so. It could be an interesting competition but you have to see how you place it, what ‘there are no more matches then now.” The close relationship between UEFA and South American governing body CONMEBOL has already led to the organization of Wednesday’s Finalissima between European champions Italy and Copa America winners Argentina in London.