UEFA Nations League Preview

By Daniel Defalco

This summer sees the inaugural UEFA Nations League Finals, set to be held in Portugal between June 5 and 9. From the 55 nations who took part in the competition, only England, Netherlands, Switzerland and Portugal remain. The winner will claim £9 million in tournament prize money and have the honour of being the first nation to be etched on to the 71cm silver trophy. Ahead of the finals, Overtime are taking an in-depth look at each of the four nations and picking out who could be the key-men in June.

Portugal

The winners of League A’s Group 3, Portugal go into their semi-final match against Switzerland as the current champions of the continent after their success at the 2016 European Championships.
Fernando Santos’ men will be hoping to better their underwhelming 2018 World Cup campaign, after losing to Uruguay in the round of 16. With a promising group of young players, Portugal will have to contend with an expectant home crowd if they are to be the first winners of the Nations League.

Rising Star – Ruben Neves

After an outstanding first season in the Premier League with Wolverhampton Wanderers, the 21-year-old seemingly has a bright future ahead of him for club and country. Named captain of Porto at just 18, Neves possesses skills such as long-range passing and the ability to catch goalkeepers out with long-shots. Following rumours of a switch to Manchester United in January, Neves will be truly in the shop window following June’s fixtures.

Switzerland

Vladimir Petkovic’s side miraculously qualified from Group 2 in League A after overcoming a 2-0 deficit against Belgium in November, winning 5-2. After round of 16 finishes at their last three major tournaments, Switzerland are making steady progress on the international stage, currently occupying eighth in the FIFA World Rankings, above Spain and Argentina.
As the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Ricardo Rodriguez and Granit Xhaka all enter the so-called ‘twilight years’ of their careers, this is a fantastic opportunity for Switzerland to win their first major tournament.

Rising Star – Breel Embolo

At just 22-years-old, Breel Embolo has already registered 30 appearances for his national team since making his debut in 2015, aged 18. The Schalke striker played in all four of Switzerland’s games at the World Cup and with his ability to play in a number of positions along the front-line, he looks likely to be a key player for his country at the Nation League’s finals.

England

Gareth Southgate’s men left it until the last 15 minutes of their final Group 4 match against Croatia to secure qualification for the finals. After reaching the semi-finals of last summer’s World Cup, the Three Lions are the highest-ranking side to remain in the competition. With European qualifying games against lower ranking opposition in Czech Republic and Montenegro during the upcoming international break, England have the perfect opportunity to build confidence before the finals in June.

Rising Star – Jadon Sancho

Arguably one of the most exciting talents in world football, Sancho possesses blistering pace and spectacular dribbling skills. Aged just 18, the former Manchester City man has made his mark on the Bundesliga this season – scoring eight goals and providing 10 assists in 25 appearances.

Netherlands

After being drawn in a group alongside the previous two world champions in France and Germany respectively, many dismissed a Netherlands side which had failed to qualify for the last two major tournaments. However, a side seemingly resurging under Ronald Koeman became Group 1’s surprise package after a last-minute Virgil van Dijk equaliser against Germany saw them progress into the last four. Following the recent retirements of key-figures Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, the Netherlands will have to find new heroes if they are to succeed in June.

Rising Star – Matthijs de Ligt

Dubbed as the most promising young defender in Europe, Ajax’s 19-year-old starlet has shone for his club this season while also playing every minute of his country’s Nations League campaign.
With his composure on the ball and exceptional reading of the game, the Ajax captain represents a new breed of sought-after centre-backs. After starring during his club’s 4-1 demolition of Real Madrid in the Champions League, De Ligt should relish the upcoming battle with England skipper Harry Kane.

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