Following a gruelling end to the 2021/22 season, the UEFA Nations League is set to get underway this midweek. The tournament has come under fire for forcing players to get back on to the pitch just a few weeks after the end of the strenuous campaign, but it will hope to create excitement among the viewers with some blockbuster encounters on offer. One of them is set to take place at the Estadio Benito Villamarin in Seville, as Spain lock horns with Portugal this Thursday. It will be the battle of the two neighbours, who have been shuffled into Group B, also consisting of Switzerland and Czechia, making it arguably the toughest group in the competition.
It will thus be critical for these two teams to start on a positive note in their quest to qualify for the finals of the Nations League. Both the teams have played only twice so far this year, with the hosts Spain winning back to back friendlies against Albania and Iceland in March. La Roja are, in fact, coming on the back of six successive wins. But Portugal could be a tough nut to crack, even though they have never looked as dominant since their triumph in the 2016 European Championship. Portugal had to labour to a 2-0 victory over North Macedonia in March in order to book their tickets to the FIFA World Cup. A Selecao will now be aiming to maintain their winning momentum when they take on Spain on the first matchday of the UEFA Nations League.
Moving into midfield, Sergio Busquets is in line to beat Xavi’s record for appearances for the Spanish national team. His experience and composure in the number six slot could be invaluable for the hosts, as they look to maintain control of the proceedings.
Since Thiago Alcantara has withdrawn from the squad, Gavi might be handed a start after all. He could pair up with Koke to accompany Busquets in the middle of the park. Their influence in midfield could go a long way in improving Spain’s approach play, up against a Portugal side likely to defend deep in their lines.
Speaking of defence, Enrique is set to face a major selection dilemma. Diego Llorente and Eric Garcia have not had the best of seasons, which could potentially pave the way for Inigo Martinez to form the central defensive pairing alongside Pau Torres.
Spain are not the only ones missing a Manchester City defender, as Portugal are also without Ruben Dias heading into this contest. His absence could pave the way for Domingos Duarte to form the central defensive pairing alongside the experienced Pepe, although coach Fernando Santos could also opt for Danilo Pereira.
Elsewhere in the backline, Joao Cancelo and Raphael Guerreiro should operate as full=backs. Given Cancelo’s all-round abilities, Guerreiro could be given more freedom going forward. But with Nuno Mendes breathing down his neck, the Borussia Dortmund star is under pressure to perform well.
Luis Enrique has made some interesting choices with regard to his squad selection for the upcoming matches. While Aymeric Laporte and Pedri are missing through injuries, young Gavi has been called up, along with his Barcelona teammate Ansu Fati. Neither of them are expected to start, though, as Enrique looks to field a full-strength eleven in his bid to start the UEFA Nations League campaign on a positive note. With that in mind, the Spanish attack could be led by the experienced Alvaro Morata, with additional support from wingers Dani Olmo and Ferran Torres.
Moving into midfield, Portugal have a myriad of options in the number six slot. Joao Moutinho is the favourite due to his experience and composure in the middle of the park. He could play a key anchoring role in the middle, accompanying the more creative-minded Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva.
The two Manchester wizards could cause real problems for the Spanish side with their creative essence in the final third. They are also capable of sparking magic from set-pieces and are genuine goalscoring threats. Their influence could be critical in supplying the main forward Cristiano Ronaldo.
Apart from Fernandes and Silva, though, Ronaldo can expert additional support from the wide players in Otavio and Diogo Jota, though Santos also has the option of deploying Goncalo Guedes and AC Milan’s star performer Rafael Leao.
The Nations League may still be in its infancy, but Spain vs Portugal is a glamour group stage clash that brings the UEFA football competition into sharp focus. The two sides have already put their mark on the tournament. Portugal were crowned winners in the inaugural Nations League back in 2019 while Spain came close to matching that feat last year after finishing as runners-up to France. Kick-off is at 7.45pm local time on Thursday. Read on to find out how to watch a Spain vs Portugal live stream no matter where you are in the world.
Spain come into this tie off the back of a five-game winning streak that has seen them concede just one goal. Their most recent victory was a 5-0 friendly trouncing of Iceland back in March.
Portugal are meanwhile on something of a high after after booking their spot at the 2022 World Cup, following a 2-0 play-off final victory over North Macedonia.
League A Group 2 looks a tricky pool, though, with it also including the Czech Republic and Switzerland, meaning both teams will want to make a strong opening statement in this first match.