With the UEFA Nations League group phase drawing to a conclusion over the next couple of days, and other major tournament qualifiers continuing in Africa and South America, we look at the state of play in international football with Chelsea interest in mind.
After Wednesday’s fixtures the domestic game will take centre stage until March, with the postponed Euro 2020 tournament to then look forward to, as well as a Copa America and then the UEFA Nations League Finals. The following year, 2022, starts with an Africa Cup of Nations and finishes with the World Cup, and here we look at who has already qualified for each tournament, and who still needs what before international football is paused…
UEFA Nations League
A number of Blues are hoping to join France in the four-team UEFA Nations League Finals. Other promotion and relegation spots are up for grabs, too, in this second edition of the Nations League.
Group A1 – Italy
Jorginho and Emerson helped the Azzurri leapfrog Poland and move into first place in their group with an impressive 2-0 victory on Sunday night. Our midfielder opened the scoring from the spot.
Italy travel to already-relegated Bosnia and Herzegovina on Wednesday night knowing a victory in Sarajevo will secure qualification ahead of the Netherlands and Poland. Those two teams meet in the group’s other game, and should they draw Italy would only require a point.
It has been confirmed the winner of this group will host the 2021 Nations League Finals, scheduled for October next year.
Group A2 – Belgium, Denmark and England
Belgium’s victory over England on Sunday leaves them in pole position to qualify, although an injury-time Denmark winner on the same evening against Iceland keeps Andreas Christensen’s hopes alive. The Danes travel to Belgium on Wednesday knowing they can pinch top spot with a victory. Michy Batshuayi will hope to be involved for the Red Devils, who just need to avoid defeat to advance.
England cannot win the group nor can they be relegated, making their final game at home to Iceland something of a dead rubber. Consecutive losses to Denmark and Belgium have ended their hopes of a second appearance at the Nations League Finals.
Group A3 – France and Croatia
N’Golo Kante’s goal in Lisbon on Saturday sent France through to their maiden Nations League Finals appearance and knocked out the holders Portugal. France are three points ahead of Portugal but with the superior head-to-head record (having drawn 0-0 in Paris) are guaranteed to finish first, whatever their result against Sweden in the last game.
Croatia and Mateo Kovacic host Portugal knowing they must equal or better Sweden’s result in Paris to avoid relegation to League B. Both teams are locked on three points, having each won their respective home game against the other 2-1, and lost the rest. With both also having a -6 goal difference currently, Croatia are ahead on goals scored (seven to three).
Group A4 – Germany and Spain
Perhaps the most dramatic showdown is in Group A4, where Spain host Germany on Tuesday knowing a victory will move them into first place and secure qualification. For Germany, a point in Seville will suffice. Timo Werner will be hoping to add to the goals he scored against Ukraine at the weekend.
Group B4 – Wales
The only other Chelsea interest in the Nations League is in Group B, where Wales, and Ethan Ampadu, have a great chance of earning promotion to the top tier. All they have to do is avoid defeat at home to second-placed Finland, who trail them by a point. That game is on Wednesday.
The qualification picture for the postponed Euro 2020 tournament, now scheduled for next summer, was completed last Thursday. Although there was no current Chelsea involvement, congratulations to Steve Clarke, who oversaw Scotland’s progress to a first major tournament since 1998.
Clarke, who played over 400 times for the Blues and was assistant manager during a trophy-laden period in the 2000s, watched as his Scotland side defeated Serbia on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
As well as England against Croatia, other potential Chelsea match-ups in Euro 2020’s group stage are: Italy vs Wales, Denmark vs Belgium and France vs Germany.
Euro 2020 is scheduled to run from 11 June to 11 July next year.
AFCON – what’s the latest?
The 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations was originally scheduled for January and February 2021, but will now take place a year later because of the global pandemic. Cameroon are the hosts.
A year since the first pair of qualifiers, the action has continued in the past week with Chelsea interest at three different African nations.
Edouard Mendy was able to celebrate qualification with two games to spare after recording back-to-back clean sheets in Senegal’s victories at home and away to Guinea-Bissau. Should they win their penultimate qualifier, away to Congo in March, they will secure top spot.
Morocco and Hakim Ziyech play Central African Republic away tonight (Tuesday) knowing a victory will all but book their place at the next AFCON. They would move to 10 points, six clear of third-placed Burundi and safe in the knowledge only a very specific set of results will shift them down to third. Whatever happens tonight, they will be well placed going into their final two qualifiers, away to Mauritania and at home to Burundi, in March.
For Ghana, who have Baba Rahman in their squad, the picture is simple. Avoid defeat in Sudan tonight and qualification is assured. If they lose, there remains a very slim chance they won’t make it to Cameroon.
South America World Cup qualifying
Qualification for the next World Cup is already underway in South America.
The 10 countries play each home and away, with the top four qualifying directly for the World Cup, and the fifth-place team entering an inter-continental play-off.
Thiago Silva captains Brazil and they are the only nation to possess a perfect record after three games, and ahead of a testing trip to Uruguay on Tuesday night. Brazil host their great rivals Argentina in the next batch of international fixtures in March.
A reminder the next World Cup is in Qatar in November and December 2022.
European Under-21 Championships qualifying
Group stages matches for next year’s European Under-21 Championships conclude in the next couple of days.
England Under-21s have safely booked their place, while Scotland can join them if they beat Greece tonight by a 4-0 margin of victory or better. If not, they will need other results to go their way to advance as one of the best five runners-up. Billy Gilmour is suspended after his red card on Thursday.
The next Under-21 Euros take place in separate weeks in March and June 2021. Hungary and Slovenia are the current hosts, with the tournament schedule set to be finalised next month.