The draw for the third edition of the UEFA Nations League takes place on Thursday, 16 December (5pm) with Cymru set to face some of the biggest names in the European game following their promotion to League A of the competition.
An undefeated 2020/21 UEFA Nations League campaign saw Cymru top League B4 with Rob Page's side conceding just one goal during the six games. However, a tougher challenge will present itself for the next edition of the competition with Cymru placed in League A Pot 4, with potential opponents including England, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Italy and world champions France amongst other leading nations.
Due to the 2022 FIFA World Cup taking place next winter, a change to the international calendar means that the opening four matches of the UEFA Nations League will take place in the first two weeks of June next year, with the remaining two fixtures scheduled for September. Competing in League A also offers the opportunity to qualify for the finals of the competition will take place in June 2023. France won the last edition of the tournament with victory over Spain in the final last October.
Cymru achieved promotion despite being without the support of the Red Wall as the competition was played out under the restrictions imposed by the pandemic between September and November last year. Kieffer Moore scored the only goal of the game on the opening matchday as Cymru claimed a 1-0 victory over Finland in Helsinki, and the side repeated the scoreline a few days later against Bulgaria at the Cardiff City Stadium as Neco Williams marked his arrival on the international scene with his stoppage time winner.
A forgettable 0-0 draw against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin in October would be the only time Cymru dropped points during the campaign, but the side responded with another 1-0 victory over Bulgaria. Substitute Jonny Williams proved to be the hero in Sofia as his late goal separated the two sides, ensuring that Cymru would head into their final two home games knowing that two victories would guarantee promotion.
“It's an amazing moment for me,” said Williams to Sky Sports after the match. “I wondered if I would ever get my first goal! We always knew that if we kept keeping clean sheets we would get chances. The boys at the back have been brilliant, the defence has been exceptional and has given us something to build on. It was always the aim [to be top of the group]. We're missing some outstanding players, so to come away with three points is a fantastic achievement.”
A second half goal from David Brooks against the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff in November proved to be the difference between the two sides, but top spot in the group was sealed against Finland as goals from Harry Wilson, Daniel James and Moore with his second of the campaign earned the side a 3-1 win over Finland. Teemu Pukki's consolation goal for the visitors brought to an end the perfect defensive record that had been the cornerstone to what Cymru had achieved, but was little more than a minor blip.
“It's a pleasure to play in this team,” said Wilson to UEFA.com. “We've got a strong defence and midfield behind us which allows us attacking players to go out there and express ourselves. They ask us to get in the spaces and we trust them to deliver the ball, and when they do, it's up to you to make the difference. That's what we did tonight to create the chances that we did.”
Out of the four groups in League B, Cymru boasted the best record out of the group winners, and are now joined in Pot 4 for the draw by Austria, Czech Republic and Hungary. Meanwhile, Iceland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sweden and Ukraine drop down from League A to League B following their relegation having finished bottom of their four respective League A groups.
It has been a busy year for Cymru since the last edition of the competition as the side have competed at the EURO finals and earned themselves a World Cup play-off place. There is no doubt that the experience gained during the course of the last calendar year will put the side in a strong position to take on the very best of the European game when the competition kicks-off again in June.