The third, biennial UEFA Nations League A, vintage 2022-23, begins today with Wales playing Poland. The tournament which runs through June 18th of next year has four tiers of competition with teams able to move up to the League above by winning the one below. The leagues are A, B, C, and D wherein the top teams are competing in League A and all of the other nations in Europe compete in the remaining three leagues.
The tournament was developed by UEFA so as to provide European countries with meaningful competition in preparation for the big-boy tourneys, the Euro, and the World Cup. The Nations League will take the place of many of the “friendlies” national teams play to prepare for the big tourneys.
Nations League A has four action-packed groups with 16 teams vying in a home and away format for the four semifinal berths from which a final two will then lead to a champion. The four last-place finishers in each group get relegated to League B. The favorites to progress are in bold and the strongest second in Italics.
Group 1 has France (current champions), Denmark, Croatia, and Austria.
Group 2 has Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic.
Group 3 has Italy, Germany, England, and Hungary.
Group 4 has Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, and Wales.
Coming off of domestic leagues that have just concluded most players will be in fighting rhythm if a bit overburdened by the number of games they have already endured—domestic cups and leagues, continental play, and national team duty on international games. Thus the Nations League could be a major showcase as easily as a dud if overworked players hold back.
The draw for the Nations League A groups provides two opportunities for fans to see each of the following outstanding matchups: France-Denmark, Croatia-France, Spain-Portugal, Italy-Germany, Italy-England, Germany-England, and Belgium-Netherlands. The quality of the second and sometimes third-best team in a group will make for very competitive matches. Imagine a group where Germany and England are the second and third most likely to advance!
The semifinals pairings will be determined by a draw and will be single elimination with the winners meeting in the finals and the losers vying for the third-place slot. The host country for the last four games will be determined by FIFA in January 2023.
My prediction is that France, Portugal, Italy, and Belgium, will all indeed progress and that though France would be the overall favorites they will not be as motivated to win as Italy. For the Italians, this tourney will be their only time to shine between now and Euro 2024 since they did not qualify for the 2022 World Cup. The second most motivated team will be Belgium which has yet to win anything with their golden generation. Portugal will use the tourney to test out tactics and line-ups and will likewise not be as focused on winning as the eventual finalists, Italy and Belgium. Ultimately, in a coming-of-age moment, it will be the Belgians who finally break through to win it all.