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5 international games to watch over the weekend

The club season may be over, but there is still plenty of football to look forward to.

The UEFA Nations League has returned to our screens this week, with the 2022/23 edition kicking off on Wednesday night. Poland took the three points from the opening game, coming from behind to defeat Wales 2-1.

The tournament, which is in its third year, tends to divide opinion amongst players and fans. Nonetheless, it has provided some incredible drama in the past. Back in October, France lifted the trophy after beating Spain at the San Siro, with Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe scoring.

Here are five games to watch this weekend.

France vs Denmark (Friday, June 3, 19:45 BST)

The holders are back in action, and they begin their Nations League campaign with a tough test.

The World Cup is around five-and-a-half months away, and France are heading to Qatar as one of the favourites. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given their recent successes and the supreme quality they have in their squad.

But they were disappointing last summer, exiting the European Championships in the round of 16. They won just one of their four outings, and were knocked out by Switzerland on penalties. Rumours of disharmony in the dressing room followed.

Friday’s game should be an indicator of the level that they’re at. They’ll be fancied to win, but they can’t expect an easy ride.

Denmark put up a strong showing at the Euros, reaching the semi-finals. Since then, they have enjoyed a comfortable World Cup qualifying campaign, picking up 27 points from their ten games – only Germany could match this feat. And with Christian Eriksen back and looking at his best, they could be a dark horse in Qatar.

Belgium vs Netherlands (Friday, June 3, 19:45 BST)

If the pre-match comments are anything to go by, neither team will be taking this one too seriously. Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal have both expressed their lack of interest in this competition.

However, these are some of the final games that both sides will play before the World Cup. The practice will be key for them if they wish to be successful at the tournament.

Belgium have gone through a golden generation over the last decade, with a number of the country’s greatest ever players emerging. They’ve come close in the past, but they haven’t managed to get their hands on any silverware to back this up.

And now, it seems like that generation is fading. Vincent Kompany retired, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen declined, Axel Witsel and Dries Mertens are well into their 30s. Meanwhile, Romelu Lukaku has had a terrible season at Chelsea, and Eden Hazard has gone sharply downhill since his transfer to Real Madrid. Their only reliable world-class players left are De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois. This could well be Belgium’s last shot at glory.

As for Netherlands, they’ve looked far from the standard we’re used to seeing from them in recent years. They failed to qualify for Euro 2016 or the World Cup in 2018, and were knocked out of Euro 2020 by Czech Republic.

Van Gaal has had some success with the national side in the past, reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2014. With some talented youngsters coming through, and Virgil van Dijk on course to make his international tournament debut, they ought to be better this time around.

Both sides go into Qatar as somewhat unknown quantities. This match should give us an insight into what to expect from them.

Italy vs Germany (Saturday, June 4, 19:45 BST)

Since their triumph at Euro 2020, things have all gone a bit pear-shaped with Italy. They suffered a shock defeat to North Macedonia in the World Cup qualifying play-offs, and were completely outplayed by Argentina in the Finalissima at Wembley.

The Azzurri will be hoping for some form of redemption in the Nations League. With no World Cup to worry about, they ought to prioritise this competition.

Germany are also looking to compensate after a few years of failure. They exited in the group stages of the World Cup in Russia, and were beaten by England in the round of 16 last summer.

Now, they have treble-winning former Bayern Munich manager Hansi Flick in charge, and there are high expectations for his team. The 57-year-old worked with Die Mannschaft for eight years as Joachim Low’s assistant, winning one World Cup, reaching the Euro 2008 final, and helping them to two semi-finals.

Wales vs Ukraine (Sunday, June 5, 17:00 BST)

We’re momentarily veering away from the Nations League, as there is also a crucial World Cup qualifier to come this weekend.

Wales defeated Austria in their play-off semi-final, thanks to a stunning brace by Gareth Bale. The winger widely considered to be the Dragons’ greatest ever player, and the upcoming tournament is almost certain to be his last chance to appear at a World Cup. Meanwhile, Wales themselves haven’t featured at a World Cup since 1958, when they were knocked out by a 17-year-old Pele.

Ukraine will be fully motivated for completely different reasons. Given the situation in their homeland, the Blue and Yellows will have the backing of most of the world. They’ve already seen off one British side, beating Scotland 3-1 in their semi-final on Wednesday.

Portugal vs Switzerland (Sunday, June 5, 19:45 BST)

Since winning the European Championships in 2016, Portugal have failed to win a knockout game at a major tournament. Uruguay eliminated them in 2018, and they were beaten by Belgium in 2021.

They will be hoping to rectify this at the upcoming World Cup. They have one of the most talented squads on the international stage, so naturally go into the tournament as contenders.

But Switzerland have proven over the last two years to be a tough opponent. They have lost just four games from their previous 25. In that time, they knocked France out of Euro 2020, took Spain to a penalty shootout, drawn twice with Germany, and finished above Italy in their qualifying group.

These two have history in the Nations League, having met in the semi-finals in 2019. On that day, Portugal emerged victorious thanks to a hat-trick by Cristiano Ronaldo (of course).

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