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Nations League: Who impressed ahead of the World Cup?

European teams heading to the World Cup had their last chance to impress in the Nations League before the extravaganza starts in Qatar in November, and some will be pleased with how things went this month.

(This article was originally published on 28.09.2022)

There were players too who were able to enhance their reputations in the last two Nations League matchdays, so here we take a look at those who have got their confidence up with the battle for the game's biggest prize set to start on 20th November.

Here are our five big winners from the last week.

Switzerland

Switzerland caused a shock when they knocked France out of the Euros last year, battling back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the world champions on penalties, and they head to the World Cup in fine fettle.

They had a week to remember in the Nations League as they beat Spain, who knocked them out of the Euros on penalties in the quarter-finals, 2-1 in Zaragoza and also posted a home success over the Czech Republic by the same scoreline.

Striker Breel Embolo, who secured a move to Monaco over the summer, scored in both matches and there still seems to be life in established stars such as Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka.

Switzerland have been placed in Group G with Brazil, Cameroon and Serbia and they are 9/2 to win the section and 1/1 to qualify.

The Swiss have fallen in the round of 16 in four of their last five World Cup appearances and they are 15/8 for that to happen again.

Should they get through, they would play one of Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay or South Korea, who make up Group H.

Croatia

Croatia will have the Nations League finals to look forward to after the World Cup but they will be delighted to go into the upcoming competition having suffered just one defeat in the 13 games they have played since being knocked out of the Euros in a 5-3 thriller against Spain.

Qualification for Qatar has been straightforward and they have been excellent in the Nations League since a 3-0 opening defeat to Austria, beating those opponents and highly fancied Denmark in the past week to win Group A1.

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They were runners-up to France at the World Cup in Russia four years ago and will be expected to get out of Group, which includes Belgium, Morocco and Canada.

Indeed, a last-16 spot could be all but confirmed by the time they face the Belgians in their final group game on 1st December.

Croatia are 50/1 to go one better than four years ago and win the World Cup, 5/2 to win the group and 4/7 to go through, which they failed to do three times after reaching the semi-finals on their 1998 debut.

Expectations are rightly higher this time though.

Netherlands

Wins over Poland and Belgium this week have heightened expectations that the Netherlands, who have lost in three World Cup finals, can make a bold bid in Qatar.

Louis van Gaal's side topped Nations League Group A4 by six points, winning five and drawing one of their six matches and they have not lost any of their last 13 competitive matches.

Van Gaal led the Dutch to the semi-finals in Brazil eight years ago and that will perhaps be viewed as a missed opportunity, but fortune looks to have smiled on the Oranje this time.

They failed to qualify for Russia, but they were handed an excellent draw with hosts Qatar joining them, alongside Ecuador and Senegal in Group A.

Van Gaal's side are 2/5 to win the section and 13/20 to post an opening win over Senegal on 21st November.

The Netherlands are 12/1 to finally claim a world title and they look bound to be popular in the outright market in the build-up to the tournament.

Aleksandar Mitrovic

Aleksandar Mitrovic scored a whopping 43 goals for Fulham in their Championship-winning season last term, but the Serbia striker is demonstrating he is in great form on the international stage as well.

The Cottagers striker, who has six goals in the Premier League already this season, is flying for his country as well as he claimed a hat-trick in Serbia's 4-1 win over Sweden and was also on target in their 2-0 win in Norway on Tuesday.

That took Mitrovic's tally to six goals in his last four international appearances and those interested in backing him for the Golden Boot may note he is 66/1 to obtain the accolade.

Serbia are in Group G with Brazil, Switzerland and Cameroon and will be hoping to get past the group stage for the first time after three unsuccessful attempts.

They are 11/2 to win the section and 11/10 to qualify for the knockout stage.

Christian Eriksen

Christian Eriksen's cardiac arrest at the Euros left the Denmark midfielder fighting for his life and any return to football seemed a distant hope.

However, the Manchester United midfielder is back as the Danes' linchpin and it was ominous that he created eight opportunities for his team-mates in their 2-0 victory over France on Sunday.

The former Tottenham and Inter Milan man has been the player who makes Denmark tick for the best part of a decade and that victory over the world champions should be a huge boost with the pair due to meet again in Group D in Qatar.

Denmark, who are 28/1 to win the World Cup, are 3/1 to win a section that also includes Australia and Tunisia. They are 4/9 to qualify, while the in-form Eriksen, back to fitness, is 66/1 for the Golden Ball, awarded to the tournament's best player.

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