KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: The 2022-23 Nations League opens this week with all of European federation UEFA’s 55 members competing in 14 groups including even Wales, Ukraine and Scotland despite their simultaneous tangles over Europe’s last World Cup slot in Qatar.
Their schedules have had to be adjusted after the footballing fall-out from Russia President Vladimir Putin’s military invasion of his southern neighbour.
Almost all the teams will play six matches apiece, four in June and then two in the closing week of September. Promotion and relegation between the groups is factored in to the competitive equation but only the League A nations can compete for access into four-team finals in June next year.
France won the last Nations Cup and will confront their World Cup group rivals in Denmark. Group 2’s outcome may be dictated by the opening clash matching Spain against neighbours Portugal in Seville. Group 4 will be opened by Wales visiting Poland in Wroclaw but with their minds on the World Cup playoff four days’ later against Ukraine or Scotland back in Cardiff.
Rob Page, in caretaker charge ever since legal priorities sidelined Ryan Giggs, would doubtless have preferred a postponement of the Polish distraction but, of course, the crowded calendar is king. Belgium and Netherlands complete the group.
Further down the Nations League an unhappy coincidence has seen World Cup playoff rivals Ukraine and Scotland drawn together in League B1. Their June 4 fixture has been postponed until September 21. Russia were drawn in League B2 with Albania, Israel and Iceland but international suspension cast their presence in doubt. UEFA sought to delay a formal decision as long as possible while awaiting direction from the Court of Arbitration for Sport to which the Russian Football Union has appealed.