The first ever UEFA Nations League finals will commence in Portugal tomorrow morning with the hosts facing Switzerland in the opening semi-final before Netherlands and England and face-off on Friday to determine who will play for the inaugural trophy.

Coming just a matter of days after the end of the domestic football season, all for teams are in camp and deep into their preparations in what is a great opportunity for each nation to claim a piece of silverware a year out from the European Championships next year.

Ahead of the matches, let us take a look at each team and preview their chances of lifting the trophy.

Portugal

The winners of Euro 2016 enter the finals after dominating in Group 3 of the Nations League, going unbeaten with a win and a draw each against Italy and Poland, finishing three points clear of the former in second place.

Cristiano Ronaldo will be back for the Selecao after missing the entirety of the group stages in what will be a massive boost for Fernando Santos’ side.

The side also features star talent in the form of Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo of Juventus, while Wolverhampton Wanderers’ impressive quartet of Rui Patricio, Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho and Diogo Jota are all involved, with the latter set for his international debut.

The one player that the world will have its eyes firmly fixed on however is Benfica wonderkid Joao Felix who burst onto the scene with a hat-trick in the Europa League quarter finals.

The 19-year-old is reportedly on the radar of a host of top European clubs and is in line for his first international cap after being named in Santos’ 23-man squad.

Switzerland

Rank outsiders in these finals, the Swisse come into the last four having navigated their way past Belgium in the group stages, with both teams finishing on nine points, well ahead of Iceland who failed to register in their four games.

After losing to Belgium in their second match of the tournament, Switzerland faced the Red Devils on the final matchday needing a win and goal difference to make up on Roberto Martinez’s team, and they incredibly thrashed the World Cup bronze medallists 5-2 after trailing 2-0 in the opening 20 minutes.

A hat-trick from Haris Seferovic helped them in that game which meant that they ended the group stages as the top scorers overall, with a 6-0 thumping of Iceland helping them to 14 goals in their four matches.

Xherdan Shaqiri will join the Switzerland camp as a Champions League winner after Liverpool lifted the trophy, while their young defence headlined by Borussia Dortmund’s Manuel Akanji and Fabian Schar of Newcastle United will look to keep Ronaldo at bay and send the team through to the final.

The Rossocrociati have not made a tournament quarter-final since 1954, and are set for the biggest match in some time in their footballing history.

Netherlands

The sleeping giant in world football has well and truly been awoken from its slumber as the Netherlands look to claim their first piece of international silverware since Euro 1998.

After finishing third at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the Oranje failed to qualify for both Euro 2016 and last year’s World Cup in Russia in what has widely been considered the worst period in their vast history.

Over the past 12 months, however, Ronald Koeman has steered the side back to its former glories, and with Ajax’s incredible run in the Champions League, Dutch football is suddenly on the up.

They had by far the toughest Nations League group with World Cup-winning France and fellow European powerhouse Germany, with a draw against the Germans in the final match enough to send them through on goal difference ahead of the French.

Their squad is packed with superstar talent with arguably the best defender in the world at the moment in Virgil van Dijk captaining the side after winning the Champions League alongside teammate Georginio Wijnaldum.

Frenkie De Jong, Donny van de Beek and Matthijs de Ligt were the heroes of Ajax’s captivating campaign, and with Memphis Depay rediscovering himself at Lyon, the Dutch come in as a definite favourite to take the ultimate prize.

England

Just under a year on from their heartbreaking World Cup semi-final defeat to Croatia, England find themselves in another tournament semi-final, only this time they will be hoping to go one better and have their hands on a trophy for the first time since their only World Cup win in 1966.

Similar to the Netherlands, the Three Lions find themselves in somewhat of a golden generation finally breaking their penalty shootout curse in Russia and establishing themselves back on the world stage after what has so far been a tumultuous 21st century.

Gareth Southgate’s men needed to exact revenge on Croatia at Wembley in their last group stage match to jump Spain into first place, and a dramatic late comeback saw Jesse Lingard and Harry Kane get the team over the line and into the finals.

Kane and Tottenham teammates Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Danny Rose will be keen to atone for their Champions League final defeat while Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez seek to continue their personal success after winning in Madrid.

Jadon Sancho has established himself as a global phenomenon while Raheem Sterling has finally stamped his authority on the international game and is coming off the best club season of his young career.

Predictions

All four teams are on fascinating journeys in their own rights and will be eager for a piece of silverware, whether it be their first in a long time or for Portugal, a case of continuing a recent period of success.

Unfortunately for them, England and Netherlands are probably the two best teams but will have to make do with facing each other in the semi-finals, which gives Portugal and Switzerland a chance to make a name for themselves in the final, to be played at Porto’s Estadio do Dragao on June 10 AEDT.

Semi-finals

Portugal 3-1 Switzerland

Netherlands 2-2 England (Netherlands to win on penalties).

Third-placed playoff

England 2-0 Switzerland

Final

Portugal 2-3 Netherlands

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Nick Hughes
nick.hughesy6@gmail.com