UEFA Nations League C: Group by group preview29 May 2022
League C is the third-tier of the UEFA Nations League pyramid.
All four groups feature four teams who will play each-other home and away.
The four group winners will be promoted to League B.
The four bottom-placed teams will compete in relegation play-outs in March 2024 with the two losers relegated to League D.
Group 1: Turkey, Luxembourg, Lithuania & Faroe Islands
Following their embarrassing relegation in 2020, Turkey are aiming to spend as little time as possible in League C.
Two years ago, the Crescent-Stars won just one of their six Nations League games, finishing bottom of a group containing Hungary, Russia and Serbia.
More broadly, it’s been a tough period for Turkey, who also lost all three matches at Euro 2020 before missing out on World Cup qualification.
Stefan Kuntz’s side did sneak into a Qatar 2022 play-off place, but then saw their dreams shattered by a 3-1 defeat to Portugal in March.
Nevertheless, Turkey should be far too strong at this level and are heavy favourites to take top spot.
Don’t write off Luxembourg though after they accumulated nine points from eight World Cup qualifiers last year.
The Red Lions beat Republic of Ireland in Dublin and Azerbaijan twice, securing their strongest-ever qualification campaign, in terms of points per game.
In the Nations League, Luc Holtz’s team have won six of 12 matches to date, narrowly missing out on promotion behind Montenegro in 2020.
While Luxembourg will be hoping to challenge Turkey for top spot, the other two teams are looking to avoid coming dead-last.
Faroe Islands won promotion to this tier two years ago, going through their League D campaign unbeaten.
If Håkan Ericson’s side are to avoid the dreaded relegation play-outs, they’ll probably be looking to pip Lithuania to third.
This’ll be Lithuania’s third consecutive season in League C, winning just two of 12 matches to date, losing eight of them.
Valdas Ivanauskas’ team have only beaten Bulgaria, Kazakhstan and Albania in competitive games since to October 2016, so could be in danger.
Prediction: 1st- Turkey. 2nd- Luxembourg. 3rd- Faroe Islands. 4th- Lithuania.
Group 2: Northern Ireland, Greece, Kosovo & Cyprus
Former European Championship winners Greece are the headline act in Group 2.
Between 2004 and 2014, the Sky Blues and Whites featured at six major tournament, notably winning the European Championships 18 years ago.
However, since going out of Brazil 2014 to Costa Rica on penalties, they’ve failed to qualify for all four World Cups and Euros.
In Nations League terms, this’ll be Greece’s third successive season in League C, finishing two points behind group-winners Slovenia two years ago.
New Head Coach Gus Poyet will certainly be targeting promotion this time, with Northern Ireland likely to be their biggest challengers.
This is the Green and White Army’s first campaign at this level having suffered relegation in 2020.
In fact, Northern Ireland have never won a match in this competition in ten attempts, something Ian Baraclough’s team will be looking to put right.
Having ended 2021 with a goalless draw against European Champions Italy, they come into this League C campaign in confident mood.
Cyprus just about survived at this level last time out, ousting Estonia 2-0 in the relegation play-outs in March.
That massive victory in Larnaca is just Cyprus’ third win from 14 Nations League games, form that’ll certainly need to improve.
Kosovo, who complete the quartet, only just survived at this level too, beating Moldova 1-0 on matchday six in Pristina two years ago.
The Dardanians have only won two of their last 17 competitive matches, so are likely to be fighting Cyprus, with both attempting to avoid the play-outs.
Prediction: 1st- Northern Ireland. 2nd- Greece. 3rd- Kosovo. 4th- Cyprus.
Group 3: Slovakia, Belarus, Azerbaijan & Kazakhstan
On paper, Group 3 contains one clear front-runner alongside three weaker sides, all of whom will be content not to finish bottom.
Slovakia are the overwhelming favourites to win promotion after they were relegated last time round.
The Falcons have only won two of ten Nations League matches to date but, now competing at a lower level, this ratio is likely to vastly improve.
If Štefan Tarkovič’s side don’t win this group at a canter, it would be a major surprise.
Below them, there’s very little to separate the other three sides.
Kazakhstan only survived at this level by the skin of their teeth, beating Moldova in March’s relegation play-out after a nerve-shredding penalty shootout.
More broadly, the Hawks have only won seven of their last 55 competitive internationals, dating back to September 2013.
Similarly, Azerbaijan only won once in this competition two years ago but, just about, survived, finishing two points clear of Cyprus.
Gianni De Biasi’s side come into this edition winless in 12 competitive fixtures, only winning one of their last 25.
Given all of this, Belarus will be confident of staying up, despite having lost their last seven matches, conceding 22 goals in the process.
In this competition though, the White Wings have actually won seven of their 12 games to date, including beating Kazakhstan home and away in 2020.
Georgi Kondratiev’s team will be handicapped by the fact they’re playing all home matches behind closed doors at Stadion Karađorđe in Serbia.
This is due to the country’s involvement in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Prediction: 1st- Slovakia. 2nd- Belarus. 3rd- Kazakhstan. 4th- Azerbaijan.
Group 4: Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Georgia & Gibraltar
In contrast, top spot in Group 4 is very much up for grabs.
North Macedonia have enjoyed unparalleled success in the last couple of years, making their major tournament debut at Euro 2020.
The Red Lynxes actually qualified via their performance in the Nations League and, to date, have won seven of 12 fixtures in this competition.
Last time round, they missed out on back-to-back promotions, pipped to top spot by Armenia, ending up a mere two points below.
More recently, Blagoja Milevski’s side almost qualified for the World Cup, astonishingly knocking out Italy in Palermo during March’s play-offs.
However, North Macedonia could not quite complete the fairytale, going down 2-0 to Portugal at Estádio do Dragão in the final five days later.
So, despite being the top-seeds, Bulgaria are not the favourites to gain promotion straight back to League B.
The Lions are currently without a victory in nine Nations League games, losing five of them, and were relegated with just two points in 2020.
Yasen Petrov’s kick off by welcoming North Macedonia to Razgrad on 2 June; this’ll be an early litmus test of both’s promotion credentials.
Meanwhile, Gibraltar are the rank-outsiders in this section after they were promoted from League D two years ago.
Julio César Ribas’ side accumulated eight points against Liechtenstein and San Marino, but will have to up their game further if they’re to survive.
Similarly, Georgia breezed through League D in 2018, but found life at this level more challenging two years later.
The Crusaders only lost once but only won once in 2020 so, at the very least, will be looking to remain at this level this once more.
Prediction: 1st- North Macedonia. 2nd- Bulgaria. 3rd- Georgia. 4th- Gibraltar.
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