The 13 European national teams participating in this year’s World Cup will play their last competitive soccer matches in the Nations League this week, two months before the tournament kicks off in Qatar.
For the rest of the continent’s teams, with the exception of Russia, which has been suspended due to the war in Ukraine, next week’s final Nations League standings will decide which playoff path some will need to qualify for. the 2024 European Championship.
Elsewhere in Europe, teams bound for the World Cup, including Brazil, the United States, Ghana, Japan and Qatar, will play warm-up games.
LEAGUE OF NATIONS
The Nations League group stage will be completed 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 advance to 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 organized by the winner of the group that includes the Netherlands and Belgium. Those two countries will meet in the Group A4 decider on Sunday in the Netherlands.
Other featured games include: Portugal vs. Spain on Tuesday; Denmark vs. France on Sunday; and Italy vs. England on Friday.
Those last two games have relegation implications. World Cup champions France and England are currently bottom of their groups and could be relegated to the second tier for the next Nations League in 2024.
HAALAND, UKRAINE ON THE RISE
Teams leading the second-tier groups and fighting for promotion include Norway, led by Erling Haaland’s five goals in four games, and Ukraine.
Norway, which did not qualify for the World Cup, can win promotion on Tuesday against Serbia.
Ukraine has been unable to host matches in international competitions due to the Russian invasion and now has to play three Nations League matches in seven days to secure promotion.
Ukraine, who lost in the World Cup playoffs and failed to qualify for the tournament in Qatar, start Wednesday in Scotland. The team then travels to Armenia on Saturday and finishes again against Scotland the following Tuesday. Ukraine will host that match in Krakow, Poland.
Russia were removed from their second-tier group by UEFA and automatically downgraded 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 have 53 teams, leaving out host Germany and suspending Russia. The draw is expected to have seven groups of five teams and three groups of six teams, with the top two in each advance.
The 12 teams that will compete in the Euro 2024 playoffs for three places in the tournament will be selected according to the Nations League standings. All next Tuesday’s group winners are guaranteed a place in the playoffs.
Europe is playing host to a host of top international teams who are playing what for most will be their last warm-ups before the World Cup.
Brazil plays Tunisia and Ghana in France, the country where its star winger, Neymar, plays his club soccer with Paris Saint-Germain. The Tunisian match is at the PSG stadium.
Players from Uruguay will travel to Austria and Slovakia to play against Iran and Canada, respectively.
The United States plays Japan in Germany on Friday and Saudi Arabia in Spain on Tuesday.
World Cup-bound teams like Senegal, Qatar, Morocco and Ecuador are also playing friendlies in Europe, where many team members play their club football.
TESTING THE STRENGTH OF THE TEAM
The World Cup takes place at the heart of the traditional European season for the first time, leaving national team coaches little time for preparation.
Teams usually have two or three friendly matches in extended preparation for a tournament. Not this time, as most World Cup teams have only a week together before group play begins.
This international break is key for coaches to kick start ideas and perhaps test the strength of the team.
Brazil is testing Pedro, the Flamengo striker who is the top scorer in this season’s Copa Libertadores, as a new attacking option. France coach Didier Deschamps will have to deepen his resources after injury absences include Hugo Lloris, Lucas Digne and Boubacar Kamara, as well as the absences of star players Paul Pogba, Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kanté. .
With Jordan Pickford injured, England manager Gareth Southgate must try another goalkeeper against Italy and Germany.
In fact, for some players, the decisive Nations League qualifiers essentially double as trials to enter the World Cup squads.
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