The inaugural UEFA Nations League reaches its climactic final stage in Portugal next week, when 4 of Europe’s best international teams go head-to-head for the chance to be crowned the competition’s historic first champions.
Between June 5th and June 9th, the quartet of group winners from Nations League Group A, Portugal, Switzerland, England and the Netherlands will play-off in Porto and Guimarães to determine the tournament’s first ever winner.
Each of the 4 combatants have considerable strengths to wield, though every competing team also has identifiable weaknesses to exploit. That leaves the Nations League Finals with an open and unpredictable feel to it ahead of the first Semi Final between Portugal and Switzerland next week.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the 4 Semi Finalists below:
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Odds: 15/8 favourites
Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo
One to Watch: Joao Felix
Possible Starting XI: Rui Patricio, Cancelo, Dias, Pepe, Guerreiro, Carvalho, Neves, Moutinho, Bernardo Silva, Felix, Ronaldo
- Portugal scored the fewest goals out of the 4 Nations League Group winning teams, hitting the net only 5 times in their 4 fixtures.
- Under 2.5 goals were scored in 8 of Portugal’s last 11 international matches.
- Portugal conceded 2 goals or more in only 7 of their last 32 international fixtures and went on to lose only 3 of those games.
Portugal topped Group 3 of UEFA Nations League A last year ahead of Italy and Poland, finishing the section unbeaten with 8 points from 4 matches.
The current European champions kicked off their Euro 2020 qualification campaign in somewhat underwhelming manner however, taking just 2 points from 2 games at home to Ukraine and Serbia in a brace of dour, drab contests.
Old-heads Pepe, Jose Fonte, Joao Moutinho and the indomitable Cristiano Ronaldo remain important components of Fernando Santos’ squad, though emerging starlets like Ruben Dias, Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix represent an incredibly gifted emerging generation of Portuguese talent.
Key Player: Haris Seferović
One to Watch: Denis Zakaria
Possible Starting XI: Sommer, Mbabu, Schar, Akanji, Rodriguez, Xhaka, Zakaria, Freuler, Shaqiri, Seferovic, Embolo
- Switzerland scored more goals in the Nations League Group Stage than any other of next week’s finalists (14 in 4 games).
- An average of 3.6 goals were scored across Switzerland’s last 8 international matches.
- Haris Seferović scored 4 times in his last 3 appearances for the Swiss national team. The Benfica striker also recently finished as the top scorer in the 2018/19 Portuguese Primeira Liga with 23 goals.
Rarely fancied and often underestimated, Switzerland come into next week’s Nations League Finals as the rank outsiders to lift the trophy.
Remarkably, the 6/1 underdogs scored more goals en-route the Finals than any of the other 3 Group winners, hitting the net 14 times in 4 games on their way to topping Group 2 ahead of Belgium and Iceland.
Switzerland secured top spot by battering Belgium 5-2 in Lucerne in Group 2’s final round of fixtures in November, a result that served to illustrate just how dangerous an outfit Vladimir Petković’s team can be.
Like Portugal, the Swiss come armed with a clutch of promising young stars, including Denis Zakaria, Nico Elvedi, Manuel Akanji, Kevin Mbabu and Breel Embolo, whose energy should complement the match-defining ability of the more experienced Xherdan Shaqiri and Haris Seferović.
Key Player: Raheem Sterling
One to Watch: Jadon Sancho
Possible Starting XI: Pickford, Alexander-Arnold, Walker, Maguire, Stones, Chilwell, Henderson, Alli, Sterling, Sancho, Kane
- England finished with the lowest goal difference (+1) out of all 4 Nations League Group topping finalists last year.
- England won 100% of their last 5 international games, scoring a whopping 18 times in the process.
- England beat Portugal, Switzerland and the Netherlands 1-0 in each of their most recent meetings against them (England 1-0 Switzerland, Sep 18, Netherlands 0-1 England, Mar 18 and England 1-0 Portugal, Jun 16)
After the incredible journey to the World Cup Semi Final last summer, England maintained their positive momentum by topping Nations League A Group 4 in front of Spain and their World Cup conquerors Croatia in November.
Gareth Southgate’s men then capitalized on that feel-good factor to start their Euro 2020 qualification schedule with emphatic 5-0 and 5-1 victories against the Czech Republic and Montengero respectively – wins that lead many to back the Three Lions to go all the way in next weeks’s Nations Leagues Finals.
However, with 7 of their 23-man squad potentially involved in this weekend’s all-English Champions League Final, fatigue could well hinder the team’s progress and performance in Portugal.
Key Player: Virgil van Dijk
One to Watch: Steven Bergwijn
Possible Starting XI: Cilessen, Dumfries, de Ligt, van Dijk, Blind, de Jong, Wijnaldum, van de Beek, Bergwijn, Depay, Babel
- Netherlands kept just 3 clean sheets in their last 14 matches outside their own borders.
- Memphis Depay scored 7 times in his last 8 appearances for the Netherlands.
- Netherlands only failed to score once in their last 17 fixtures. Nations League Semi Final opponents England were the only team to keep them off the scoresheet during that period.
The Netherlands raised more than a few eyebrows when the finished top of the pile in Nations League Group 1, leaving World Cup winners France and perennial big hitters Germany in their wake.
Their performances and results were further indication that the Netherlands have turned a corner again, after a nightmarish period of stagnation where they failed to qualify for successive major international tournaments (Euro 16, World Cup 18).
The country’s resurgence has in part been fuelled by famed Ajax production line, and the Oranje have the Amsterdam giants to thank for more than half of their current first choice XI, including Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong and Donny van de Beek.
It’s in defence where the Netherlands look strongest, with de Ligt and Virgil van Dijk forming an imposing central defensive partnership. Things look far weaker in forward areas however, and an overreliance on Memphis Depay to deliver goals could be their undoing.
Our Tip: Portugal – 15/8
With the Netherland’s lack of cutting edge in the final third and fatigue and fitness concerns complicating issues for England, we’re backing pre-tournament favourites Portugal to make home advantage count in next week’s Nations Leagues Finals.
The Portuguese squad is littered with players coming off the back of sensational individual campaigns for their club and when you complement those outstanding performers with the heavy dusting of exciting, burgeoning young talent at Fernando Santos’ disposal, the host nation look a formidable outfit.
5 June 2019
Portugal vs Switzerland (19:45, Estádio do Dragão, Porto)
6 June 2019
Netherlands vs England (19:35, Estádio D. Afonso Henriques, Guimarães)
THIRD PLACE PLAY-OFF
9 June 2019
Losers Match 1 vs Losers Match 2 (14:00, Estádio D. Afonso Henriques, Guimarães
9 June 2019
Winners Match 1 vs Winners Match 2 (19:45, Estádio do Dragão, Porto)
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