The UEFA Nations League isn’t everyone’s cup of tea—Belgium and Man City star Kevin De Bruyne, in particular, is not a huge proponent of the competition—but less than six months out from the start of the World Cup, the start of the 2022–23 edition certainly comes with some additional intrigue.
With World Cup preparation as part of the equation—in addition to players on teams that have qualified for Qatar fighting for roster places this November—the competition resumes beginning this week, with the June international window featuring four of the six matchdays in the group phase, and late September featuring the final two. Well after the World Cup, the final four will take place next June.
“This is an important call-up, with the games coming just before the World Cup,” Spain forward Pablo Sarabia told reporters. “We want to win these four matches. They will be important for the players and also as a preparation for the World Cup, which obviously we want to win.”
For all of the handwringing among detractors, eight different semifinalists in the first two editions suggests an openness not usually found on the World Cup or European Championship stages, where the entrenched elite typically find a way to the later rounds.
Watch all of the UEFA Nations League matches live, only with FuboTV!
Portugal and France were the first two winners of the competition, with Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappé scoring the goals in the most recent final, a 2–1 triumph over Spain, and it’s France’s matches that bring about some of the most intrigue in the competition. After Mbappé spurned Benzema’s Real Madrid—leading the latter to post some cryptic, pointed material on his Instagram that he claimed had nothing to do with the PSG star’s decision—how will they get along? Grouped with Euro darling Denmark, fellow 2018 World Cup finalist Croatia and Ralf Rangnick’s Austria, a loaded France should be expected to make its way back to the final four and reaffirm its position as one of the favorites to win it all in Qatar, but France’s history is littered with self-sabotage, shedding a different light on Les Bleus’ Nations League matches as they fine-tune for Qatar.
As for the other reigning finalist, Spain kicks off against neighboring Portugal, adding another chapter to their Iberian rivalry in one of the most anticipated matches of the group stage.
Scroll to Continue
“We are already thinking about Portugal. It’s the start of this Nations League and we want to make it to the Final Four and, above all, prepare for the next World Cup, which will begin in no time and we will have to be ready,” Spain defender Dani Carvajal said.
The group with the deepest level of fascination is that which includes Germany, England and Italy. It would have featured three of the favorites for the World Cup—had Italy not failed to qualify for a second straight time. But the reigning Euro 2020 winner will still present a top challenge for the Three Lions (in a rematch of the Euro final) and Die Mannschaft—that is, after the Azzurri tangle with Argentina in Wednesday’s unique La Finalissima match that pits the Euro and Copa América winners against one another at Wembley Stadium.
“We have the world’s best in our sights. We want to continue down this path and we’ll see after the matches how far we still have to go,” Germany coach Hansi Flick said.
So while these games may not carry the same level of cachet as a European Championship or World Cup, they still serve a significant purpose, with some of the headlining bouts acting as a litmus test as teams heading to the World Cup make their final tweaks.
More Soccer Coverage:
Sports Illustrated may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.