UEFA Nations League: 5 games you won't want to miss
By Doug McIntyreFOX Sports Soccer Writer
The UEFA Nations League resumed on Wednesday, with Scotland beating Ukraine 3-0 in a rematch of June's World Cup qualifier. But the competition really gets going on Thursday.
As was the case over the summer, FOX Sports and FuboTV will be broadcasting and/or streaming matches live across the United States. Unlike those matches, which came at the end of a long and grueling European club season, this month's games will be played less than two months before the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar kicks off.
For the 13 European countries heading to the World Cup, these Nations League games — which conclude the "league phase" of the 2022-23 competition, with the semis, final and third place playoff scheduled for the middle of next year — take on an added importance, and not just for fans across the pond.
Here are five League A games that you won't want to miss.
Sept. 22: Belgium-Wales (2:30 ET, FS1/FuboTV)
Trailing the first-place Netherlands by three points in Group 4, Belgium must win this one to have a chance of leapfrogging the Dutch in their league phase finale Sept. 25 in Amsterdam to reach the final four.
Even two wins wouldn't be enough for last place Wales, but Gareth Bale & Co. still have plenty to play for this month. They're in a dogfight with Poland — another mid-major national team fronted by a lone superstar, in the Poles' case goal machine Robert Lewandowski — not to get relegated to League B for the 2024-25 Nations League. Poland and Wales meet Sept. 25 in a contest likely to determine which team survives.
Wales has ambitions beyond the Nations League, naturally. The 2022 World Cup marks the first the Welsh will participate in in 64 years. For them, prepping for the main event will be as much a priority as anything else this month. The match against Belgium will be intriguing for stateside fans, too, as the U.S. men's national team faces Wales on Nov. 21 in both teams' opener in Qatar.
Sept. 23: Germany-Hungary (2:30 ET, FS1/FuboTV)
The hottest national team in the world right now is Germany. The four-time World Cup champs enter this one riding a 13-game unbeaten run under coach Hansi Flick, who replaced longtime boss Joachim Löw a year ago. Germany's streak has many thinking that they could add a fifth title to equal Brazil this fall. First, they'll have to deal with Hungary.
The Hungarians aren't among the European nations that qualified for Qatar, but they've been giant-killers during this Nations League. They topped England twice over the summer — including a 4-0 smack down that was the Three Lions' worst home defeat in almost a century — and also held Germany to a 1-1 draw.
That game was in Budapest. This one will be played on enemy territory, with Die Mannschaft coming off a 5-2 rout of Italy in their last home match, one that wasn't as close as the score suggests. If Germany plays like that again it could be both long night for the visitors and a preview of what they'll be capable of later this year.
Sept. 24: Czech Republic-Portugal (2:30 ET, FS2/FuboTV)
Portugal looked great in their first three June matches, taking a point on the road against Iberian rival Spain before bouncing the Czechs and then Switzerland in Lisbon by a combined score of 6-0.
Then they lost the rematch against the Swiss. A win would have put Cristiano Ronaldo's team in sole possession of first place and guaranteed safety from the drop. Instead, the Spanish lead Group 2 by a point. Now Portugal really has to beat the Czechs in Prague. They're capable of it; Ronaldo was demoted to a role off the bench over the summer because of how stacked Fernando Santos' squad is. But as the letdown in Switzerland showed, they're inconsistent.
Which Portugal will show up on Saturday? If they manage to get all three points, it would set up an irresistible top-of-the-group finale on Sept. 27 to determine if they or Spain advance.
Sept. 25: Denmark-France (2:30 ET, FS2/FuboTV)
There's a chance this one ends up being billed as anticlimactic. Don't believe it.
Sure, France, the defending Nations League champion, can't repeat; with an abysmal showing in June, Les Bleus have already squandered any chance of advancing to the final four, and instead will be trying just not to get relegated to the continent's second tier for the next edition of the tournament.
And Denmark, which stunned the World Cup holder 2-1 in Paris in June, can clinch a spot in the semis with a win in Croatia on Thursday, three days before the rematch with the French in Copenhagen. But beating the 2018 World Cup runner-up on home soil won't be easy and, even if the Danes pull it off, it will still be fascinating to see how France, which hosts Austria on Thursday, approaches this month's games.
Les Bleus have a history of bombing out of the World Cup in the group stage after reaching the final of the previous one. They also have one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the sport. How they perform over these next two games — and against the Qatar-bound Danes, considered by some a dark horse to win the World Cup — will tell us a plenty about how they might fare when they arrive on the global stage later this year.
Sept. 26: England-Germany (2:45 ET, FS1/FuboTV)
Like France, England can't make the final four. Like France, they need points just to stay in the top tier. And like France, the prize they really want is awarded on Dec. 18 in Doha.
England were so terrible over the summer — going 0W-2L-2T over their four games — that you wonder if they're vastly overrated heading into the World Cup. It wouldn't be the first time.
Then again, it's probably unwise to draw too many conclusions from those June games. They came on the heels of the most congested English season ever. The players were exhausted. And the reality is that the Nations League doesn't provide the same level motivation for them as a World Cup.
With Qatar 2022 now just around the corner, England has everything to play for this month. Longtime manager Gareth Southgate is under pressure. There are World Cup roster spots to be won. Facing old enemy Germany at London's Wembley Stadium in their final tune-up is the perfect preparation for what lies ahead. It should tell us exactly where they stand. Surely England will be better this month. They couldn't be much worse.
One of the leading soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.