The draw for the third edition of the UEFA Nations League takes place this week in Switzerland, with all 55 national associations watching closely to find out who they will face in the group stage.
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Launched in 2018 to reduce the number of meaningless international friendlies and raise the competitive balance across national team football, the Nations League’s group stage is designed to make every game count by pitting teams of similar quality against each other.
The Swiss will be paying particularly close attention, having competed in the first finals in Portugal back in 2019.
After topping a qualifying group that featured Belgium and Iceland, they faced Portugal and then England at the finals, eventually finishing fourth but gaining vital tournament experience that prepared them well for a quarter-final finish at UEFA EURO 2020.
"In retrospect, that was the foundation for the good EURO we played," says Swiss national team director, Pierluigi Tami. "The Nations League simulates the tournament mode in its own way and generates increased public attention.
"The matches in the Nations League were serious matches against top teams. In other words - we were able to prepare for big moments like a European Championship under real competitive conditions and circumstances.
"For the coach, such conditions are ideal for integrating new and young players into the team. [In 2019, when] we played in the top four, it was like a big international tournament, so there were many circumstances that we encountered again at the EURO. And for our country, it was a milestone in the history of the national team that we are suddenly in the final four of European football."
Didier Deschamps – France coach and current UEFA Nations League champion
"When we come up against sides who are a bit weaker on paper, players are aware of that and it’s difficult to find the ‘adrenalin’, so to speak, to motivate yourself and be highly competitive.
"When you look at the groups, they’re the best national sides, since League A is made up of the best national teams in Europe. For us, topping the group after defeating Portugal away from home was what allowed us to qualify for this final four, and that was hugely satisfying.
"We did everything we could to make sure we got through, and when you get to finals, it’s better to win them!"
(Deschamps is pictured below celebrating Nations League success with midfielder Paul Pogba)
Irrespective of ranking, every one of UEFA's 55 member national associations will have plenty to play for. In Leagues B, C and D, teams of similar ranking compete to win promotion (and avoid relegation), while Europe’s top teams play in League A, aspiring to qualify for a final four tournament and lift much sought-after silverware.
For Switzerland, the aims are clear. "We want to continue playing in Group A and stay there," says Tami. "This gives us the opportunity to regularly measure ourselves against the best in Europe and to do so under competitive conditions. This is attractive for the players, for the association and also for the spectators."
That final sentence is crucial – the Nations League's competitive element means it brings far more appeal than the meaningless friendlies it was introduced to replace.
Proof of concept: raising the competitive balance of European football
Here are a selection of sides who have been feeling the benefit of the UEFA Nations League's first two editions.
Armenia have earned two successive promotions in the UEFA Nations League. They started the first edition in League D and will start their 2022/23 campaign in League B.
Austria have lost only one of their last nine UEFA Nations League matches (W6 D1 L1) and have earned promotion to League A for 2022/23 courtesy of topping Group B1 in 2020/21.
Faroe Islands won just one of their six games in the 2018/19 edition of the tournament, but their performance in 2020/21 was much improved - they were unbeaten in six matches (W3 D3) and finished top of their section, which has earned them promotion to League C.
Overall, Georgia have lost just one of their 12 UEFA Nations League matches (W6 D5 L1). They impressively topped group D1 with 16 points from a possible 18 in 2018/19 and have maintained their place in League C for the 2022-23 edition of the tournament.
Gibraltar won a competitive game for the first time by beating Armenia in the Nations League in November 2018. In 2020/21, they remained unbeaten with two wins and two draws and clinched promotion to League C for the 2022/23 edition.
Hungary will start the 2022/23 campaign in League A having earned two successive promotions. They finished first in group B3 in 2020/21.
Having finished bottom of their group in 2018/19, Slovenia enjoyed a much-improved 2020/21 campaign, topping Group C3 with four wins and two draws from six matches (and notably conceded just one goal in the six games). They are unbeaten in their last nine UEFA Nations League matches – no defeats since losing their first three games in the competition.
EURO 2016 semi-finalists Wales will compete in League A in the 2022/23 UEFA Nations League having impressively topped Group B4 in 2020/21 with 16 points from a possible 18 (W5 D1) – the most points gained by any team in League B. They kept five consecutive clean sheets in the campaign - the only goal they conceded was in a 3-1 victory against Finland in their final match.
What are the UEFA Nations League 2022/23 dates?
Matchdays 1 & 2: 2–8 June 2022
Matchdays 3 & 4: 8–14 June 2022
Matchdays 5 & 6: 22–27 September 2022
Finals draw: tbc
Semi-finals: 14 & 15 June 2023
Final & third-place match: 18 June 2023