Still all to play for in the Nations League affected by the pandemic

Portugal-France the key match; Belgium in pole position; Poland, Italy, the Netherlands fighting it out

Despite many criticising the decision to go ahead with the tournament during the coronavirus pandemic, amid travel difficulties, matches behind closed doors, and with injuries piling up, the UEFA Nations League limps to a finish over the next week.

For the third month running European national teams are playing a double-header of Nations League matches, and many are throwing in friendlies too, despite the ongoing complications caused by the health crisis.

England’s fears

England feared its game against Iceland next Wednesday might be moved to a neutral venue because its opponent is due to play Denmark away three days earlier.

Denmark is the subject of a UK travel ban due to concerns over a new strain of COVID-19 linked to mink farms, and the idea of England moving the Iceland game to a neutral venue in Germany or Albania had been raised.

However, the UK government issued a travel exemption to the Icelandic side and the game will go ahead at Wembley.

Elsewhere, players are absent after testing positive for COVID-19, among them Eden Hazard, who is set to miss Belgium’s games with England and Denmark.

Niklas Suele, Kai Havertz and Emre Can are missing for Germany, while Edin Dzeko is out for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Wissam Ben Yedder for France.

And it’s not just the players: Italy coach Roberto Mancini also had to go into quarantine after contracting the virus.

The winners of the four groups in League A will advance to the finals, which UEFA has pencilled in for October next year.

Portugal is the holder after winning the inaugural edition on home soil in 2019, and the reigning European champion faces World Cup holder France in Lisbon on Saturday in a crunch game — whoever wins will be through to the finals, while a draw keeps things alive until the final Group 3 matches on Tuesday.

In contention

Poland, Italy and the Netherlands are all fighting it out in Group 1, while Belgium is in pole position in Group 2 and can knock out England with a win in Leuven on Sunday. Denmark is still in contention in that group too.

Rejuvenated Scotland

Hot on the heels of its penalty shoot-out win over Serbia which secured qualification for Euro 2020, a rejuvenated Scotland can clinch promotion to the elite League A.

Steve Clarke’s side currently tops League B, Group 2 by four points from the Czech Republic.

A win in Slovakia on Sunday will therefore do the job, otherwise it has another chance to secure top spot in Israel on Wednesday.

Wales is hoping to secure first place in League B, Group 4, with a one-point lead over Finland and home games against the Republic of Ireland and the Finns to come.

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