Spain are set to kickstart their UEFA Nations League campaign on Thursday as they take on Portugal.

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.

Team News & Tactics

Spain

VALENCIA, SPAIN - MARCH 23: Luis Enrique, Manager of Spain looks on before the start of the 2020 UEFA European Championships group F qualifying match between Spain and Norway at Estadio Mestalla on March 23, 2019 in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Luis Enrique facing major selection dilemmas. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

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, 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.

Cesar Azpilicueta and Jordi Alba remain favourites to occupy the full-back slots, with the latter likely to be given much more freedom going forward. Meanwhile, in goal, Unai Simon is expected to start.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Simon; Azpilicueta, Torres, Martinez, Alba; Koke, Busquets, Gavi; Olmo, Morata, Torres

Portugal

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.

Pepe is the only major absentee for Portugal ahead of the visit of France in the UEFA Nations League tie. (Photo by Francisco Leong/AFP/Getty Images)

The evergreen Pepe set to continue. (Photo by Francisco Leong/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

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.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Patricio; Cancelo, Pepe, Duarte, Guerreiro; Fernandes, Moutinho, Bernardo; Otavio, Ronaldo, Jota

Key Stats

  • Portugal and Spain have met each other 38 times. Spain have the advantage with 17 wins compared to Portugal’s six.
  • The three most recent outings between these two teams have ended in draws. Portugal have lost only three of the last ten meetings in all competitions.
  • Spain are coming on the back of six successive wins in all competitions, during which they have scored 15 goals.
  • Portugal have won seven of their last nine matches as well, scoring 22 goals in the process.
  • Sergio Busquets could beat Xavi’s record of 133 appearances with the Spanish national team, becoming third in the nation’s list of all-time appearance makers.

Player to Watch

Cristiano Ronaldo

Nothing but victory on Ronaldo's mind (Photo: FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)

Nothing but victory on Ronaldo’s mind (Photo: FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)

Cristiano Ronaldo will be the undisputed attraction of this game as the Portuguese icon looks to lead his team to a positive start to the UEFA Nations League campaign.

Coming on the back of a disappointing season with Manchester United, the forward will be desperate to perform well against Spain. His ability to sniff goalscoring opportunities and create something out of nothing could go a long way in helping the visitors breach the Spanish defence.

In addition to his qualities on the pitch, Ronaldo’s leadership could be essential as Portugal look to impose themselves and make a statement after securing qualification for the FIFA World Cup.

Prediction

Spain 1-0 Portugal

Despite the quality present in the two teams, we are expecting a cagey encounter, with both sides likely to fight tooth and nail to dominate the proceedings. Portugal are set to employ a defensive approach, with a low defensive line in an attempt to make life difficult for the hosts.

However, Spain are far more organised as a team and given the form of their forwards, we expect Luis Enrique’s men to prevail. The Spanish defensive duo of Martinez and Torres could star in this affair, keeping Ronaldo quiet and causing a frustrating evening for the Portuguese attackers.

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