Germany, England face tough trips as Nations League pressure mounts

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The Nations League offers teams another chance of glory but the trapdoor of relegation provides a new threat to the bigger fish in the European pool.
The Nations League offers teams another chance of glory but the trapdoor of relegation provides a new threat to the bigger fish in the European pool. PIX: Nigel French/PA Wire/dpa

BERLIN – The Nations League offers teams another chance of glory but the trapdoor of relegation provides a new threat to the bigger fish in the European pool.

Germany and England may consider themselves heavyweights of European international football but relegation could loom unless they perform well away from home in coming Nations League fixtures.

Joachim Loew’s rebuilding Germany travel to the Netherlands in League A Group 1 on Saturday and follow that in Paris three days later against world champions France.

England meanwhile could find the feel-good factor of their run to the World Cup semi-finals evaporates should they follow an opening home loss to Spain in A4 with defeat in Croatia on Friday before the Seville return on October 15.

Other top-flight games include Belgium v Switzerland in A2 on Friday while Portugal, without Cristiano Ronaldo, meet Poland and Italy in A3.

Germany and England had differing World Cup experiences in Russia this summer but have a common need for results going into matchdays 3 and 4 of the newest tournament on the football calender.

Loew’s men produced a solid, though not spectacular, goalless draw with France in their opening game but he has squad issues ahead of the trip to Amsterdam.

Defender Antonio Ruediger, midfielder Kai Havertz and forward Marco Reus are out for the trip to Amsterdam but Loew’s enthusiasm is not diminished.

“You can only look forward to such matches, they are delicacies – for the players and the fans,” the coach said.

France top the table on four points with the Netherlands on zero.

Finishing bottom of the group would lead to demotion to the second-tier league two, a fate which could critically undermine Loew’s position and England are also anxious to avoid.

They face a rematch with World Cup conquerors Croatia – themselves looking to recover from a 6-0 thrashing in Spain – in Rijeka before meeting Luis Enrique’s in-form side, who tune-up with a Thursday friendly in Wales.

Manager Gareth Southgate could give debuts to Leicester midfielder James Maddison, Chelsea’s Mason Mount and Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho.

The match is behind closed doors as Croatia complete the punishment for a swastika being marked on the pitch before a Euro 2016 qualifier against Italy back in June 2015.

“It’s not ideal but the lads will still know they are playing for England,” Southgate told reporters.

“I would have preferred a bouncing stadium so that I could tell the players to go out and deal with it, but though we have a different sort of experience instead, the quality of the opponent is still really high so we will have enough of a challenge.”

Spain are without Atletico Madrid’s hamstrung Diego Costa so Borussia Dortmund’s Barcelona loanee Paco Alcacer could feature in Cardiff.

Alcacer has been recalled to the squad after making such a fine start in the Bundesliga.

Spain are also missing Isco, recovering from appendicitis, and his Real Madrid team-mate Dani Carvajal is absent with a calf strain.

In A3, Italy have a Wednesday friendly with Ukraine before tackling Poland on Sunday, where both sides have one point, but the Azzurri are worse off having played two games.

The Azzurri last won a competitive match a year ago, edging Albania 1-0 in their ill-fated World Cup qualification campaign.

Coach Roberto Mancini, who was appointed in May to restore the prestige of the four-time world champions, warned that the path to recovery will not be smooth.

“With our work I am convinced that we will set up a good team,” he said. “Our goal is to qualify for Euro 2020. La Nazionale lost prestige by missing the World Cup.”

Portugal won their opening game against Italy and next meet Poland, with Robert Lewandowski set for his 100th cap, in Chorzow on Thursday before a Glasgow friendly with Scotland three days later.

No reason was given for Ronaldo’s absence from the squad, but Portuguese media quoted coach Fernando Santos saying the decision was made between him, Ronaldo and the head of the Portuguese football federation, Fernando Gomes.

“We agreed the player wouldn’t be available, wouldn’t be an option for selection,” Santos said. “For the next two squad selections, this one and the one next month, Ronaldo won’t be with us.”

Police in Las Vegas last week reopened a sexual assault investigation from 2009 at the request of a woman who has alleged she was raped by Ronaldo. The player has strongly denied the allegation.

And in A2, frontrunners Belgium and Switzerland meet in Brussels with both teams on three points after wins over Iceland. -DPA

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