Gareth Southgate excited by ‘buzz’ of Nations League
England will tackle Spain and Croatia in the new Nations League
England manager Gareth Southgate feels the new UEFA Nations League will bring a “real buzz” back to international football.
Four leagues of A, B, C and D have been split into four groups of three or four teams, with the Nations League games set to replace the majority of friendlies. It will also feature promotion and relegation.
Following Wednesday’s draw in Lausanne, England will be in Group Four of League A, alongside Spain and Croatia. Wales, under new manager Ryan Giggs, will face the Republic of Ireland and Denmark in Group Four of League B.
Northern Ireland are in Group Three of League B, and will play Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Scotland, who are still without a new manager, will play in League C and were drawn into a three-team Group One.
The UEFA competition is designed to allow teams to play against those who are similarly ranked – and will offer some nations who do not qualify for Euro 2020 via the normal route a path to the play-offs.
Southgate is confident the new venture can prove a success, both on and off the pitch.
“I think there’s a real buzz about it because the top level teams want competitive games and the teams in the other leagues get a realistic challenge too,” the England manager said, quoted on the Football Association website.
“If you’re one of the smaller nations there’s no point losing heavily, regularly, against better teams so how do you develop?
“You play in competitive games where you might start to win more and gain confidence that way, which is important for their development as a country.
“And there’s a carrot there for them to qualify for the finals too.”
Southgate expects the calibre of England’s Nations League opposition will see the end of low-key encounters.
“Our experience is you want big matches and against top-quality opposition which matter – and that is what UEFA are trying to address with this format,” Southgate told broadcasters following the draw in Lausanne.
“People talk about a lack of excitement in international football, but (in November) we had (friendly) games against Germany and Brazil, and the players, the public, everyone was really engaged in those experiences. With the games we have got in this competition, that will be the case.”
England will open their Nations League campaign at home against Spain on September 8 before travelling to Croatia on October 12, which is swiftly followed by the away match against La Roja three days later.
🚨 #NationsLeague fixtures confirmed! 🚨— England (@England) January 24, 2018
1️⃣ England v Spain
🗓 Saturday 8 September
Southgate said: “Spain is a great game for us, they are one of the best teams in the world.
“We haven’t played Croatia in a while, but we want to test ourselves against those sorts of teams and try to beat them, this will be a great opportunity to do that.
“The important thing at the moment is we are enthusiastic about the games we are going to be playing, which we are, and we can see how everything develops over the next couple of years.”
Elsewhere, world champions Germany meet France and Holland in Group One of League A, while Euro 2016 winners Portugal face Italy and Poland in Group Three of the top division.
Wales will begin their Nations League campaign at home against the Republic of Ireland on September 6.
Northern Ireland host Bosnia-Herzegovina on September 8, while Scotland will first be in action at home to Albania on September 10.