Football news - Nations League Finals Roundtable: Who’s missing, who are the key men and who will win?
We use our network of European offices (plus one keen member of the UK office) to help you get all the latest info on the UEFA Nations League Finals. Find out which big stars are missing and which problems the four managers face ahead of the matches. Who will become the second winner ever after Portugal?
'Italy are the best team in the world' - Luis Enrique
Italy? Spain? France? Belgium? One of these teams will be crowned UEFA Nations League champion during the upcoming international break.
They are the four winners of the top leagues in Group A and will look to follow in the footsteps of Portugal, who became the first winners two years ago.
In order to get a better idea of how things are looking we got in contact with our offices across Europe. This is what they had to say. We have Davide Bighiani representing Italy, Jorge Ordas representing Spain, Maxime Dupuis representing France and, in light of the fact we have no office in Belgium yours truly, Pete Sharland, representing Belgium.
1. How are things with your team? Any injury concerns?
Italy - Ciro Immobile, Matteo Pessina, Alessandro Florenzi, Rafael Toloi will not be available due to injury: certainly the absence of the Lazio striker is the most important, and since there will not even be Andrea Belotti (who has been stopped for a long time) the attack will be entrusted to Federico Chiesa and Lorenzo Insigne, basically.
Spain - To be honest, there is a lot of controversy surrounding this squad from Luis Enrique for the final phase of the Nations League. Spain have a lot of injured players for these games (Pedri, Jordi Alba, José Luis Gayá, Marcos Llorente, Carlos Soler, Álvaro Morata, Gerard Moreno...) and despite the fact that there are some well-known players to cover these absences, Enrique has instead called Gavi from Barcelona who is only 17, and has only played 363 minutes of first team football. The other 'new' name is Sergi Roberto who is probably going through the worst moment of his career.
France - Les Bleus are only without N'Golo Kanté, who contracted Covid-19. Ben Pavard and Lucas Hernandez are back.
Belgium – There are two big names missing, both at opposite ends of the experience spectrum; Dries Mertens and Jeremy Doku will be missing through injury, whilst Thomas Vermaelen has not been called up due to the tight Covid-19 protocols in Japan. Hans Vanaken and Charles De Ketelaere from Club Brugge have been brought in, instead.
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2. Who will be the most important player for your team?
Italy - Chiesa is in a magical moment with Juventus and his winning goal against Chelsea proves it. He could also be the man to bet on in the Azzurri's matches.
Spain - With some top players injured and also potential future stars like Pedri out too, it's difficult to predict who will be an important player. Probably, the team as a group will be the secret of a good result. Before the Euros there was not a lot of confidence but they finally reached the semi-finals...
France - Good question. Not a player but three. Kylian Mbappe - Karim Benzema - Antoine Griezmann. Didier Deschamps still hasn't found out what to do with them. Last time, against Finland, Mbappé wasn't there and France played in a 3-4-3 formation, Benzema and Griezmann played their best game together, with two goals from Grizou. What to do with Mbappé? It's still a big interrogation point and it seems that DD doesn't want to make any sacrifices when it comes to these three.
Belgium – Another trio here; Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard. The latter might seem like a joke given his lack of game time for Real Madrid but he is still such a hugely important figure for his country. Those three may be getting on in years but when they are firing on all cylinders Belgium are difficult to stop.
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3. Where is your biggest weak point?
Italy - At the moment the role of striker is a bit unresolved: Belotti and Immobile's injuries give Moise Kean a chance, but he is yet to prove his worth.
Spain - The lack of a goal could be the main problem for Spain right now because two of their big names in attack - Alvaro Morata and Gerard Moreno - are injured. In addition, Spain have serious defensive problems - they give up lots of chances and teams like Italy, France and Belgium will surely punish them.
France - That front three. Since the Euros, DD has tried to build his team around Mbappe, Benzema and Griezmann. France won the World Cup with emphasis on defence, but, now, all the focus is on the front three. They are still trying to find the balance.
Belgium – It’s always the defence isn’t it? Timothy Castagne is a fine player but they are yet to unearth the “next big thing” when it comes to central defenders. There is real hope that Zinho Vanheusden will be that person but he’s injured and will miss this period. That means faith will be put in Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Jason Denayer and Dedryck Boyata, again.
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4. Who do you think will win/are your biggest rivals for the title
Italy – The bookmakers have France as the favourites and it is difficult not to agree considering the talent at their disposal.
Spain - Right now Spain are depleted due to injury. Italy are the form team, having won the Euros, so they are perhaps the big favourites. On the other hand, France will be very thirsty for hungry after a Euros to forget. While this could be Belgium's last opportunity to win something for their golden generation.
France - All three!
Belgium – Belgium are probably the favourites. If Italy had Immobile this would be a very different conversation and they are still the team to beat as European champions. Spain and France are clearly in a tougher spot although you’d have to say Didier Deschamps probably has the best squad available to him. Maybe it’s Roberto Martinez’s time to shine.
Luis Enrique Martínez, rueda de prensa 30 de septiembre 2021
Image credit: From Official Website
5. How important is the Nations League in your country?
Italy - The Nations League is not very well known in Italy, and many still wonder what it is and why it is played. However, Italy qualifying for the finals will certainly raise the profile of the event.
Spain - At the moment, the media coverage is light years behind compared to other events such as the Euros or the World Cup, and even the Olympic Games. But that sort of media coverage should develop as the years pass. Spain are only two games away from winning a title. If they end up winning it then there will be plenty of fanfare.
France - Nobody cares, to be honest. It's two good games, and a kind of light Confederations Cup. Nothing more.
Belgium – Little tricky to say being based in the UK. What is probably safe to say is that it’s hard to imagine Belgium caring much more than anyone else, but it is a nice chance for them to end their international trophy drought.