UEFA Nations League: 4 underdogs who look likely to cause an upset

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This Nations League campaign has seen some unexpected results, with certain astute underdogs looking determined to prove their critics wrong. Whilst some results may seem like an anomaly, others look to have paved the path to progression for unlikely candidates.

In this slideshow, we will take a look at teams from various league in the UEFA Nations League competition to see who may provide neutral football fans with an entertainment extravaganza, whilst reviewing which of the group favourites' fans may find themselves mourning over unexpected defeats.

In League A, we have the Netherlands, who are pitted against 2014 World Cup winners Germany and the reigning World Cup champions France in a hotly-contested group of death.

League B sees an incredibly tight group consisting of Russia and their similarly ranked opponent Turkey, along with fellow World Cup Quarter Finalists and 15th ranked Sweden. Both Russia, the host nation, and Sweden overcame the odds in the World Cup round of 16 to defeat the likes of Spain and Switzerland respectively.

League C's Group 1 consists of a rather imbalanced looking selection of teams, with 94th ranked Israel being pitted against Scotland and Albania, both of whom place more than 30 spots above them in the World Rankings. This means very little in the game of football, however, as we have seen how sometimes even the best sides can be upset by an unlikely adversary.

Finally, we have League C's Group 4, which consists of Serbia, who recently returned from a disappointing group stage exit in the World Cup this summer, alongside Romania, Montenegro and a vulnerable-looking Lithuania. Whilst Serbia and Romania look to have the best chances to progress, one cannot rule out a determined Montenegrin side.

Let's see which sides may just beat out the group favourites to gain progression in the tournament:

The Netherlands

Whilst a struggling Dutch side fought hard to secure an equaliser after spending much of their first group match defending against a dominant France, they narrowly lost out in a 2-1 defeat thanks to a classic Giroud volley. The Netherlands did, however, subsequently manage to reap the rewards of first-class defending and rapid-paced counter attacks in a 3-0 thumping of Germany at the Johan Cruyff Arena. Even with fewer shots and less ball possession, the Dutch were opportunistic enough to secure the three points with a header from captain Virgil Van Dijk arising from a first-half corner, along with late second-half goals by Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum.

This display showcased the Oranje's calm match temperament and opportunism that they will hope to use in their next match against France at home, where they will have the chance to unseat the world champions as group leaders in the race to the semi-final spot.


Russia v Egypt: Group A - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Russia v Egypt: Group A - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Whilst most spectators expected to see a strong Russian performance in Group 2 of League B, no one could have quite predicted the extent of their dominance against fellow world cup quarter finalists Sweden and Turkey, who are no strangers to European football in their own right.

Russia overpowered Turkey with ease in both home and away fixtures, slotting in a total of four goals. Whilst disappointed to draw 0-0 with Sweden at home, this result ensured that Russia had only conceded 1 goal in 3 matches, thus proving them to be one of the most impenetrable defensive lines in Europe. Also noteworthy is their 5-1 drubbing of Czech Republic in a friendly last month, on the same matchday that Turkey edged out Sweden 3-2 in Stockholm.

Russia look all set to qualify for promotion to League A in time for the next campaign.


Northern Ireland v Israel - International Friendly
Northern Ireland v Israel - International Friendly

Starting matchday three at the bottom of Group 1 of League C, the Israelis enjoyed a phenomenal four days, having defeated Scotland 2-1 and Albania 2-0, thus leapfrogging both opponents and claiming the top spot.

Emphasis should be placed on their psychological strength against the Albanians; whilst Albania maintained 62 percent ball possession and fired away 19 shots at goal, Israel's man-marking remained on point, and their resilient defensive work and lethal counter-attacks paid off. This result means that the Albanians will find it almost impossible to win the group, as they now have a -3 goal difference and a negative head to head record with both opponents. Scotland also look to be in a precarious position, due to still having to play an away game against Albania and face Israel yet again.

The Israelis are now looking set to secure promotion to League B should they pick up points in Scotland on the next match day.


Montenegro v Kazakhstan - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier
Montenegro v Kazakhstan - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier

Considering both Serbia and Romania rank above them in the FIFA World Rankings in 35th and 27th place respectively, one would expect the 41st placed side to struggle in this hotly-contested group in League C.

This has not been the case, however, as whilst Montenegro suffered a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Serbia, they still persevered to see out a goalless draw away to Romania after being reduced to 10 men, as well as defeating Lithuania both in home and away fixtures. This puts the Montenegrins in a solid position to qualify from the group, should they find the ability to upset Serbia in their own backyard and defeat Romania at home as they should be capable of doing.

Furthermore, because Serbia have already faced Romania twice, it means that they will be under extra pressure in the match against Romania in the bid to hold onto the top spot. This means that Romania's fate remains in their own hands.

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Edited by Vikshith R
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