England and Iceland kick off their second UEFA Nations League campaigns on Saturday as they meet at Laugardalsvöllur.
In what is a revised competition format following the inaugural edition last season, the two teams have been matched together, alongside Belgium and Denmark. Considering the difficulty of the group, both sides will hope to kick off in the best possible way.
Despite a horrendous run of form between March 2018 and January 2019, where Iceland went 15 games without a victory, they actually kick off this season’s internationals on the back of some excellent results. Erik Hamren’s side have won eight out of their last 12 matches, keeping clean sheets in seven of those games. The team also come into their clash with England having notched three consecutive wins against Moldova, Canada and El Salvador, giving them the chance to win four matches in a row for the first time since October 2014. Their record on home soil is also very impressive having won six out of their last seven matches, with the only loss coming against France last October. They will certainly hope to take that form into the second UEFA Nations League competition, having put in a poor showing last time out. Placed in a group once again alongside Belgium and also Switzerland, they did not manage to take a single point and only scored a solitary goal in a 2-1 loss to eventual group winners Switzerland. The only reason that they were spared relegation to League B was due to the revamp of the competition.
Hamren has had to omit a few key players for the clash against the Three Lions. Gylfi Sigurdsson, Aron Gunnarsson, Alfred Finnbogason and Ragnar Sigurdsson are all not available for selection, whilst Johan Berg Gudmunsson is not fit enough to play. Elsewhere, the country’s top scorer Kolbeinn Sigthorsson will certainly be one to watch after he scored the winning goal in the two nation’s last meeting in UEFA Euro 2016.
In a contrast to their hosts, Gareth Southgate’s men had a pretty enjoyable UEFA Nations League campaign in 2018/19. Topping a group which included both Spain and Croatia, the Three Lions reached the semi-final tournament in Portugal, eventually finishing third as they fell to the Netherlands but beat Switzerland in a playoff on penalties. Since that tournament, the team have only played six competitive matches compared to Iceland’s eight, all of them coming in qualification for UEFA Euro 2020. During those games however, they have been in imperious form, winning five of them and scoring 27 goals in the process, their last game being a 4-0 success against Kosovo. The only loss in that time came in the form of a shock 2-1 defeat to the Czech Republic in Prague. Should they win and keep a clean sheet against Iceland, it would become the first time that they have managed to do that in four consecutive matches since 2015.
Much like his opposite number Hamren, Southgate cannot call upon the services of a few regulars for the upcoming match. Marcus Rashford, Jordan Henderson, Harry Winks, Harry Maguire and Ben Chilwell are all absent from the squad. Their omissions have given the opportunity to a few uncapped players so the likes of Dean Henderson, Conor Coady, Mason Greenwood, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Kalvin Phillips will hope to earn their first international appearances. One man who could miss out is Jack Grealish, who has been called into the squad. He has missed a few training sessions with a slight problem.
Key Facts To Consider
- The two sides have only met three times before, claiming a victory each, with one draw
- Both sides have scored in each of those three clashes
- Iceland won the last match between the two 2-1 at UEFA Euro 2016
- Neither side has conceded a single goal in each of their last three games in all competitions
- Erik Hamren won his last match against England as a manager in charge of Sweden – the infamous 4-2 victory in November 2012
Both sides will be extremely keen to get their latest UEFA Nations League campaign off to the best possible start, especially with the high possibility of reaching the semi-final tournament. However, both sides are missing a handful of key players so it will be interesting to observe how the teams react with slightly changed line-ups. It could well be a low scoring affair considering the stubborn defensive records of both teams in recent matches.
Prediction: England to win to nil
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