Top European football flights are giving way to the UEFA Nations League and World Cup friendlies this week.
The USMNT will take on Japan on Friday at 5:30 am PST, arguably the most competitive friendly of the week.
But while CONCACAF and other national teams test one another before the World Cup, European national teams will be going at it in the UEFA Nations League.
What is the UEFA Nations League?
The UEFA Nations League is a recent creation, only beginning in 2018. The tournament kicks off every two years and generally replaces international friendlies with more competitive, European-team-only matches. Portugal and France have won the only two Nation League tournaments. The French team is the reigning champions and one of the favorites to win again.
Nations League gives teams the opportunity to qualify for the UEFA European Championship. The 2022-23 Nations League finals won’t even kick off till next June.
So what does the Nations League have to do with the World Cup?
The group stages of the 2022-23 Nations League will, in part, determine who plays in the 2022 World Cup. Like other UEFA tournaments, teams are placed into groups and battle for table points before reaching the elimination rounds. Group play for the Nations League will end on September 27, determining the final group rankings.
The World Cup follows the same format, with the top two teams in each group moving on to the group winners that don’t finish in the top two of their World Cup groups will also move on to the elimination round. Performing well in the Nations League could be a team’s ticket to the World Cup.
Nations League is like European friendlies with higher stakes.
These are the top Nations League games to watch this week.
Scotland vs. Ukraine – Wednesday, 11:45 am PST
Who doesn’t want to see Ukraine win right now? Well, Scotland and Russia, I guess.
Belgium vs. Wales – Thursday, 11:45 am PST
Team Wales is the USMNT’s main competition for second place in their World Cup group, and Belgium is just fun to watch.
Poland vs. Netherlands – Thursday, 11:45 am PST
Lewandoski vs. Barcelona teammates De Jong and Depay? Should be a banger.
Italy vs. England – Friday, 11:45 am PST
Italy failed to qualify for WC22, but they still have one of the strongest squads in Europe. USMNT fans should be very interested in watching our Group B group rivals.
Czech Republic vs. Portugal – Saturday, 11:45 am PST
Always a good time to watch Ronaldo, Joao Felix, Diogo Jota, Rapheal Leao, and the rest of the hyper-talented Portuguese squad kick it around for a bit.
Denmark vs. France – Sunday, 11:45 am PST
Reigning Nations League and World Cup champs France has one of the most talented squads of all time and should be beautiful to watch.
Netherlands vs. Belgium – Sunday, 11:45 am PST
Top-shelf, Sunday morning banger.
This Week’s Top International Friendlies
While Europe’s top national teams battle it out in the Nations League, the rest of the world will play friendly matches with much lower stakes. These games are only World Cup tune-ups and have no consequence on tournament standing.
Japan vs. United States – Friday, 5:25 am PST
Stars and Stripes fans can’t wait to see how the squad looks, even in those awful jerseys.
New Zealand vs. Australia – Friday, 8:00 am PST
This won’t actually be a quality match, but it could be fun to watch two down-under rivals get heated for a bit.
Which games are you watching during the international break? Sound off below!
Featured Image: Pexels/Anna Shvets/UEFANationsLeague/DM