Gareth Southgate has claimed that off-field incidents helped cost England a place in the finals of the Nations League – and reminded his squad that he is always monitoring their behaviour and “how players look after themselves” and the need to be “good ambassadors”, even though there is not another international fixture until March. In that month England will play three World Cup qualifiers, following the draw for the groups to provide Europe’s 13 places in the tournament in Qatar in 2022. England have been drawn alongside Poland, Hungary, Albania, Andorra and San Marino in Group I. The fixtures will also provide crucial preparation for the delayed Euro 2020 finals next summer and the England manager again informed his players of their “responsibilities” after recent meet-ups were blighted by a series of controversies. Asked about another off-field episode, with Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley due to be reminded of their responsibilities by Aston Villa after allegedly breaking social-distancing rules in a London restaurant, Southgate said: “The details of some of those stories I am not clear on, but the fact you are asking me the question is because when you are an England player there is another level of profile that comes with that. “When you go into the next camps in March, go into the tournament, you want as little noise as possible around the team. The fact is that the distractions off the pitch and some of our discipline on the pitch were quite costly for us in terms of qualifying for the Nations League. We hindered ourselves.
World Cup holders France will take on Belgium in the semi-finals of the Nations League following Thursday’s draw in the Swiss city of Nyon. The clash is likely to revive memories of their 2018 World Cup semi-final clash which France won 1-0 on their way to the crown.Following the game in St Petersburg, the Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois accused France of excessive negativity.“France heads a corner and does nothing more than defend,” Courtois was quoted as saying by Sporza. “I would have preferred to have lost in the quarter-finals to Brazil, at least that was a team that wanted to play football. France are just an anti-football team.”Belgium skipper Eden Hazard was quoted in the newspaper Het Nieuwsblad: “I prefer to lose with this Belgium than win with this France. But they do defend strongly and are very efficient. We have not found their weak point. That little moment of magic needed to score was not there.”The latest showdown will be played at the Juventus Stadium in Turin on 7 October. In the other semi-final, Italy will face Spain at the San Siro in Milan on 6 October.The final and third place play-off will take place on 10 October.France got past defending champions Portugal, Ukraine and Sweden to reach the last four. Belgium saw off Denmark, England and Iceland.
The matches will be at San Siro in Milan on Oct. 6 and the Juventus Stadium in Turin a day later, respectively, UEFA said after an Executive Committee meeting via video conference. The final will take place in Milan on Oct. 10, while the third-place playoff will be held the same day in Turin.
Large mercies first. Steve Clarke’s Scotland players and their followers have the finals of a major tournament to plan for next summer, a state of affairs not known to a generation of the Tartan Army unless they were among the retinue of Shelley Kerr’s team at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. The unaccustomed glow of Euro 2020 qualification success against Serbia last week was bound to highlight the subsequent disappointment of 1-0 defeats in Slovakia and Israel. From a utilitarian point of view, however, the Scots’ failure to consolidate a strong position at the top of their Nations League group and secure promotion to League A provided Clarke with timely and valuable reminders of what has to be accomplished before they begin their Euro finals campaign against the Czech Republic at Hampden Park next June. Clarke supervised home and away victories over the Czechs in the Nations League qualifiers, which make its all the more galling that Jaroslav Šilhavý and his team ended as winners of Group B2. Nevertheless, the paradox had been flagged beforehand in these pages when it was pointed out that the Scots had scored only three goals in seven hours of open play in the two home Nations League qualifiers against the Slovaks and Czechs, plus the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Israel and the final against Serbia. Against both Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Scotland scored with their only chance of the game and they had none at all on the mark in the play-off semi-final against Israel. Oddly, the frequency of attempts on target rose notably in the three fixtures just played on the road, with four apiece against Serbia and Israel and five against Slovakia, but the yield dropped to only a single goal by Ryan Christie in the 1-1 draw in Belgrade.