We’ll begin this treble with Montenegro and Serbia – both on four points from two Nations League matches – facing off in a potentially decisive group match. Prior to Montenegrin independence being declared in 2006, these two played as part of the same country: The State Union of Serbia and Montenegro – since then, Serbia have had more joy on the football pitch.
Serbia can count themselves a little unlucky not to have progressed from their World Cup group – they lost a 2-1 thriller against Switzerland which turned the tables against them – but they have a strong team (containing the likes of Sergej Milinković-Savić, Nemanja Matic and Aleksandar Mitrović), so I’m backing them to beat Montenegro.
The home side will be pleased with their start to this Nations League campaign: beating Lithuania and drawing with Romania – an identical record to Serbia – but the visitors will simply be too strong here, and it’s a perfect chance for them to put themselves in a position of dominance.
Two very strange teams. Poland seem to always blitz their qualification groups (with Robert Lewandowski scoring about 55 goals), earn themselves a brilliant world ranking, and then when it gets to the tournament itself they are absolutely rubbish.
Portugal are a similarly enigmatic, flatter-to-deceive type team; even their Euro 2016 triumph was wholly unconvincing – where only one of their seven matches was won after 90 minutes – and this round of Nations League fixtures will also be without Cristiano Ronaldo.
Italy are the other team in this group, who Poland drew with away from home and Portugal beat in Lisbon, and I believe both sides will be happy with their respective results. I’m backing a draw here though; Lewandowski will fancy a piece of Ronaldo-less Portugal on home soil, though I rate the visitors as a better side than Poland.
Russia and Sweden have followed-up their successful World Cup campaigns in very different ways: Stanislav Cherchesov’s Russia beat Turkey 2-1 away from home in the Nations League before stuffing the Czech Republic 5-1 in a friendly; Sweden’s quarter-final World Cup exit to England has been succeeded by a 2-0 defeat in Austria in a friendly before throwing away a 2-0 lead to lose against the Turks in the Nations League.
The Russians are in much better shape than their Scandinavian counterparts, and I’m fairly confident they can continue their winning run against Sweden: home win.