The inaugural Nations League finals are almost upon us, with England very much in with a chance of winning their first major tournament in 53 years.
Brought in predominantly to jazz up the tired friendly system in international football, the Nations League has been a huge success so far, with some dramatic late victories leading to joy and despair aplenty, while drawing interested crowds that meaningless friendlies could only dream of pulling.
Now, the winners of each group in League A, the top groups that were drawn together at the introduction of the new tournament, will face off in a semi-final tournament in Portugal, with the winner in line to take home over 10m euros.
Here is our handy guide for how it will work, what fans can expect on the Iberian peninsula and who is best set to take home the inaugural prize.
How it will work
Each team who topped their League A qualification group booked their place in the inaugural finals. In principal, Uefa had agreed that the winner of Group A3 would be the first hosts of a Nations League finals, with Portugal – the first team to secure their place in the finals after drawing 0-0 with Italy in their third group match – that selected nation, confirmed by a Uefa Executive Committee on December 3.
Portugal are joined by a rejuvenated Netherlands who relegated Germany to League B while reaching the finals, Belgium-conquerors Switzerland, and England after their dramatic late win over Croatia in their final Group A4 match.
Portugal kick off the short finals tournament in Porto on June 5 when they face Switzerland, before England take on Netherlands the following day. Just a one-game shootout, where extra time and penalties will separate the sides if the match finishes in a draw.
June 9, just four days after the semi-finals, will see the losers of the two semi-finals face off for third place, before the final takes place in Porto later that evening.
And that is it, two cities, over five days. Very, very easy for fans, compared to those who faced overnight train journeys in Russia at the World Cup in the summer, with the tournament all over in a short, action-packed period, with no three-day gaps between games.
The host cities
Separated by less than an hour’s car journey, Guimaraes and Porto are both no stranger to international tournament football, having hosted eight Euro 2004 games between them 15 years ago.
Guimaraes is much the smaller of the two venues, with a population less than 200,000, but visitors get the charm of a host city without being overwhelmed by larger sprawls. The historic old town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Named European Capital of Culture in 2012, Guimaraes is said to have been the birthplace of the first king of Portugal – Afonso Henriques – but nowadays is famous across Portugal for its youthful population with around half of Guimaraes’ inhabitants under the age of 30.
Porto could not be more of a contrast to the quaint Guimaraes in terms of size, but Portugal’s second city possesses similar grandeur, with its historic centre also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Fans can bask in the many bars along the dominant Douro river, with plentiful sweet Port wine to keep spirits high.
The Estadio do Dragao certainly is the more recognisable of the two stadia, with many a Premier League side having taken on Portugal’s second most successful club side – FC Porto – there.
Built for the 2004 European Championships, the 50,000 seater stadium hosted four group games, a quarter-final and a semi-final in the tournament.
Lionel Messi made his Barcelona debut, aged 16, in a friendly against Porto way back in 2003 in the Estadio do Dragao to mark the venue's official inauguration.
The Estádio D. Afonso Henriques stadium in Guimaraes, where England will take on Netherlands, is much smaller at 30,000, and originally built in 1965, meaning it will host its third major Uefa tournament.
Vitoria SC call the stadium home, a team that finished fifth this season to qualify for the Europa League and regularly command the highest attendances outside of Portugal’s “big two” – Porto and Benfica.
Who is best set to take home the prize?
On home soil, Portugal are slight favourites with the bookmakers, with that added incentive of winning the prize in front of their home fans giving them the edge.
There is plenty of talent in the ranks to nudge Portugal over the line. Cristiano Ronaldo is back in the international fold after a nine-month absence, while Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva continues to go from strength to strength.
Sporting Lisbon captain Bruno Fernandes has scored 32 goals and registered 17 assists in all competitions this season and is the reigning Primeira Liga Player of the Year, with in-demand Joao Felix primed to set the Nations League alight.
England are rightfully second favourites given they have won six of their last seven, and scored ten goals in their last two matches. Gareth Southgate’s young side will have learned a great deal from their World Cup exploits last summer, and can head to Portugal confident of success.
The Netherlands have been rejuvenated under Ronald Koeman, having relegated Germany and topped France in their tough group to reach the Nations League finals, while Belgium-conquerors Switzerland have again reached a major finals tournament, but they will have to improve on their record of not having won a knockout match at a major international tournament since 1954.