The 13 European national teams that will take part in this year’s World Cup will play their last competitive football matches in the Nations League this week, two months before the start of the tournament in Qatar.
For the rest of the continent’s teams – apart from Russia, which has been suspended due to the war in Ukraine – next week’s final Nations League standings will decide the path to the qualifiers some of which will have to qualify for the 2024 European Championship.
Elsewhere in Europe, teams destined for the World Cup, including Brazil, the United States, Ghana, Japan and Qatar, will play warm-up matches.
LEAGUE OF NATIONS
The Nations League group stage will end with 54 teams playing 53 games over seven days.
In the 16-team League A, the top team from each of the four groups will qualify for the Final Four tournament. The current leaders are Denmark, Spain, Hungary and the Netherlands.
The Final Four tournament, scheduled for June 14-18, will be hosted by the winner of the group which includes the Netherlands and Belgium. These two countries will face each other in the decisive Group A4 match on Sunday in the Netherlands.
Other highlights include: Portugal v Spain on Tuesday; Denmark against France on Sunday; and Italy against England on Friday.
These last two games have relegation implications. World Cup champions France and England currently sit bottom of their group and could be relegated to second tier for the next Nations League in 2024.
HAALAND, UKRAINE ON THE RISE
Teams topping the second-tier and promotion-challenging groups include Norway – led by Erling Haaland’s five goals in four games – and Ukraine.
Norway, who did not qualify for the World Cup, can win promotion on Tuesday against Serbia.
Ukraine has been unable to host games in international competitions due to the Russian invasion and now has to play three Nations League games in seven days to gain promotion.
Ukraine, who lost in World Cup qualifiers and failed to qualify for the tournament in Qatar, start in Scotland on Wednesday. The team will then travel to Armenia on Saturday and finish again against Scotland next Tuesday. Ukraine will host this match in Krakow, Poland.
Russia were removed from their second tier group by UEFA and automatically demoted to the third tier for the 2024 edition, leaving Israel, Iceland and Albania to play in a three-team group for promotion.
The draw for the qualifying group for the Euro 2024 tournament in Germany will take place on October 9 in Frankfurt and will be affected by the Nations League.
The four top-tier group winners next week will enter a Euro 2024 qualifying group of just five teams to clear their schedules for the Nations League Final Four.
The Euro 2024 qualifying draw is expected to feature 53 teams, excluding host Germany and suspended Russia. The draw is expected to feature seven groups of five teams and three groups of six teams, with the top two from each advancing.
The 12 teams entering the Euro 2024 qualifiers for three places in the tournament will be selected based on the Nations League standings. All group winners next Tuesday are guaranteed a place in the playoffs.
Europe is home to a host of top international teams playing in what will for the most part be their last warm-ups before the World Cup.
Brazil face Tunisia and Ghana in France, the country where their star winger, Neymar, plays in his football club Paris Saint-Germain. Tunisia’s match is at the PSG stadium.
The Uruguayan players will travel to Austria and Slovakia to face Iran and Canada respectively.
The United States will face Japan in Germany on Friday and Saudi Arabia in Spain on Tuesday.
World Cup-related teams like Senegal, Qatar, Morocco and Ecuador also play friendlies in Europe, where many of the team members play their club football.
TEST SQUAD STRENGTH
The World Cup is taking place for the first time in the heart of the traditional European season, leaving little preparation time for national coaches.
Typically, teams have two or three friendlies as part of an extended preparation for a tournament. Not this time, with most World Cup teams only having a week together before the start of group games.
This international break is essential for the coaches to set up ideas and perhaps test the strength of the team.
Brazil are testing Pedro – the Flamengo striker who is this season’s Copa Libertadores top scorer – as a new attacking option. French coach Didier Deschamps will have to dip into his resources after injury withdrawals including Hugo Lloris, Lucas Digne and Boubacar Kamara, added to the absences of star players Paul Pogba, Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kanté.
With Jordan Pickford injured, England manager Gareth Southgate has to test another keeper against Italy and Germany.
Indeed, for some players, the decisive Nations League qualifiers essentially double as tries to enter the World Cup teams.
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