WINDHOEK, SEPT. 5 – The first round of games in the 2018/19 UEFA Nations League continues on Friday, September 7, with former world champions Italy and 2018 World Cup hosts Russia both in action.
The only League A game sees the Azzurri of Italy welcome Poland to Stadio Renato Dall’Ara to Bologna for their opening Group 3 clash.
Italy famously missed out on the 2018 World Cup – the first time they have not appeared at the global showpiece since 1958 – and are looking to make their way back to the upper echelons of the sport under new coach Roberto Mancini.
They were last in action in a series of friendlies in late May and early June, defeating Saudi Arabia 2-1, losing to eventual World Cup winners France 3-1, and drawing 1-1 with the Netherlands.
The former Manchester City mentor has opted to select a squad which is relatively inexperienced for their upcoming UNL matches – their most capped midfielder, for example, is Giacomo Bonaventura, who has made just 11 appearances.
However, veteran defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci remain to provide some wisdom, while striker Mario Balotelli is a maverick pick who could be sublime or ridiculous (or even both in the same match), depending on what mood he’s in.
Their opponents Poland endured a disappointing campaign at Russia 2018, suffering defeats to Senegal and Colombia before a consolation 1-0 win over Japan in their final group match.
The White Eagles continue to look to veterans Jakub Blaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski for inspiration, and they will hope to lead Jerzy Brzeczek’s team to a fourth win over Italy in 15 matches. The teams last met in a friendly in 2011 which was won 2-0 by the Azzurri.
Elsewhere, in a Group 2 match in League B, Turkey will host Russia in Trabzon. The teams met in a pre-World Cup friendly in early June in Moscow and played out a 1-1 draw – with goals from Alexander Samedov and Yunus Malli.
Russia will be looking to build on their excellent showing as 2018 hosts, where they exceeded even their own expectations by reaching the quarterfinals. The pressure will be on coach Stanislav Cherchesov to demonstrate that his team should be considered for the League A division, but Ay-Yıldızlılar will be tought to beat in their own back yard.
League C matches see Israel visit Albania, Lithuania host Group 4 favourites Serbia, and Romania will fancy their chances of overcoming Montenegro in the teams’ meeting at Ilie Oana Stadium in Ploiesti.
The League D matches feature minnows Azerbaijan and Faroe Islands at home to Kosovo and Malta respectively.
Key match stats
Italy v Poland – Head-to-Head
Matches played 14
Italy wins 5
Poland wins 3
Turkey v Russia – Head-to-Head
Matches played 18
Turkey wins 2
Russia wins 14
Romania v Montenegro – Head-to-Head
Matches played 3
Romania wins 1
Montenegro wins 1
UEFA Nations League fixtures – Friday, September 7
All times CAT
Group 3 – Italy v Poland – 20h45 (Live on SS3, Max1 & Select4)
Group 2 – Turkey v Russia – 20h45 (Live on SS8, Max360 & Select2)
Group 1 – Albania v Israel – 20h45 (Live on SS10 & Select1)
Group 4 – Lithuania v Serbia – 20h45
Group 4 – Romania v Montenegro – 20h45
Group 3 – Azerbaijan v Kosovo – 18h00 (Live on SS3 & Select4)
Group 3 – Faroe Islands v Malta – 20h45