Fans' wait for the World Cup has, of course, been a little longer than normal this time around – ordinarily the tournament would've already been completed.

Nevertheless, the big kick-off is closing in with Qatar 2022 now just 100 days away – we're into the final straight!

As with any major tournament, predicting a winner in the build-up is just a natural part of being a football fan, even if it can often be a fool's errand.

But considering how integral statistics are to football these days, using data might just give you the edge, and that's where Stats Perform come in.

Our Artificial Intelligence team have used Opta's extensive data reserves to quantify each team's chances of winning the entire tournament.

Every match has been run through the Stats Perform World Cup prediction model to calculate the estimated probability of the outcome (win, draw or loss). This uses odds from betting markets and Stats Perform team rankings, which are based on historical and recent performances.

It takes into consideration the strength of each team's opponents as well as the difficulty of their respective paths to the final, plus the make-up of the groups and any relevant seedings heading into the knockouts.

Then, the rest of the tournament is simulated 40,000 times and analysed, providing the AI team with a percentage for each nation, showing the probability of them ultimately lifting the trophy at the Lusail Stadium on December 18.

Let's check out the results…

FAVOURITES: France (17.9 per cent)

Suspend your disbelief! Yes, reigning champions France have the greatest probability of winning the World Cup this year, with our model giving them an almost 18-per cent chance of clinching a third title.

But let's not overlook how remarkable an achievement that would be. No team has retained the World Cup since Brazil in 1962, and the only other occasion of that happening was in the 1930s when Italy won it back-to-back.

France were the favourites heading into Euro 2020 but were ultimately disappointing – they'll need to do significantly better here otherwise their fate could be sealed by the dreaded winners' curse.

Each of the past four European winners of the World Cup have been eliminated in the group stages, a trend that began with Les Bleus in 2002.

 

2. Brazil (15.7 per cent)

Another unsurprising entry. That's right, record winners Brazil come in at second in terms of likelihood of winning the World Cup.

Tite's side qualified with ease and clearly have an extremely talented group of players available to them – the problem is getting them all on the pitch at one time while retaining a cohesive and balanced shape.

If Tite can find the magic formula at the World Cup this time, at the very least you'd expect them to get beyond the quarter-finals, the stage they crashed out to Belgium four years ago in Kazan.

Failure, however, will mean Brazil's World Cup drought will stretch to 24 years by the time the 2026 edition comes around, and that would make it their joint-longest barren run in the competition since claiming their first title in 1958.

3. Spain (11.5 per cent)

La Roja aren't the force they were as recently as 10 years ago, when they won a third successive major international tournament with victory at Euro 2012.

However, Luis Enrique has turned them into a side that is easy on the eye and capable of carving open the best teams – their main issue in recent years has been finding a reliable striker, and that'll likely be what determines how far they get in Qatar.

Either way, we can surely expect a better showing than they managed in Russia, where they were hindered by the sacking of coach Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the World Cup as a result of accepting a post-tournament role at Real Madrid.

4. England (8.0 per cent)

The Three Lions almost won their first major international trophy since 1966 last year at Euro 2020, only to fall at the final hurdle against Italy.

Either way, few can deny it was a sign of progress: they reached the Russia 2018 semi-finals, the final at Euro 2020, so surely Qatar 2022 is theirs already?

Gareth Southgate has made England an effective tournament side, even if doubts remain over his ability to impose a style of play that sees the Three Lions take the initiative against the biggest teams.

Similarly, their performances in the first round of Nations League fixtures in June left a lot to be desired, but that won't stop expectations from soaring in Qatar.

5. Belgium (7.9 per cent)

Squeezing into the top five ahead of the Netherlands (7.7 per cent) are Belgium, who reached the semi-finals four years ago before being eliminated by eventual winners France.

It's fair to say this is likely to be the last opportunity for the Red Devils' so-called 'golden generation' to truly leave its mark on a major tournament – in fact, many original members of that Belgium generation have already retired.

While success for Roberto Martinez's side looks unlikely, they are a match for any team on their day, and our probability score recognises they are by no means out of contention.

THE REST OF THE FIELD

Netherlands and Germany (7.2) are hard on Belgium's heels in our predictor table, though in both cases fans might feel their squads have more to offer than their neighbours.

Both teams have solid blends of experience and youthful exuberance, while the two coaches have vast experience – Louis van Gaal needs no introduction, while Hansi Flick has been involved in the Germany setup for much of his coaching career.

But the teams many will be looking out for because of certain individuals are Argentina (6.5 per cent) and Portugal (5.1 per cent).

 

They are the only other two to be given more than a 2.3 per cent chance of World Cup success, and given the presence of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, they cannot be discounted.

Argentina have rebuilt since a somewhat shambolic campaign in Russia, with Lionel Scaloni inspiring La Albiceleste to their first Copa America in 28 years in 2021.

Messi was central to their triumph in that tournament, and now he's got the proverbial monkey off his back, there's hope Argentina could produce a respectable showing.

With Ronaldo 37 and Messi 35, it's unlikely either will play another World Cup. Given the tournament is synonymous with those generally regarded as the best ever – Pele and Diego Maradona – they will be desperate to crown their respective careers.

This is it.

 

10. Croatia (2.3 per cent)
11. Denmark (2.0 per cent)
12. Uruguay (1.5 per cent)
13. Mexico (1.4 per cent)
14. Switzerland (1.0 per cent)
15. Poland (0.8 per cent)
16. Iran (0.6 per cent)
17. Japan (0.5 per cent)
18. United States (0.5 per cent)
19. Wales (0.4 per cent)
20. Qatar (0.4 per cent)
21. South Korea (0.4 per cent)
22. Serbia (0.2 per cent)
23. Senegal (0.2 per cent)
24. Ecuador (0.2 per cent)
25. Australia (0.1 per cent)
26. Ghana (

England defender Millie Bright highlighted her side's versatility after a gutsy 2-1 comeback win against Spain in extra time of their Women's European Championships quarter-final on Wednesday.

After a goalless first half, Spain snatched the lead in the 54th minute when Esther Gonzalez found space in the penalty area and finished low and hard across Mary Earps in the English goal.

With their tournament hanging in the balance, Ella Toone was subbed on with half an hour to play, and she proved to be the hero when she got on the end of Alessia Russo's squaring head to stab in the equalising volley from the edge of the six-yard box in the 84th minute.

Locked at 1-1, extra time was needed, and England made sure their fans would head home happy after Georgia Stanway found what would turn out to be the match-winner in the 96th minute, firing a rocket across the Spanish keeper into the top-left of the goal from well outside the penalty area.

Speaking to the media after the result, Bright talked about finding a different way to win, knowing it would be a very different contest than their recent drubbings of Northern Ireland (5-0) and Norway (8-0).

"It's all part of the game, and you're gonna come up against different challenges," she said. "Again, we knew that they were going to have a lot of the ball. 

"We were gonna have to find that different way of winning, and having been in games where, like I said, we scored a lot of goals. But it's about being clinical when you get those chances. I thought the players that were on and the players that came on did that excellently.

"I think, obviously, we were dealing with not having the ball a lot, and having to stay really tight defensively. Then knowing when we got the ball, it's how we use it, and how we can punish them and work towards their weaknesses.

"But yeah, it was just a matter of trying to rush a little bit without kind of turning it over and making mistakes, and obviously, we knew we had that pressure. 

"I think everyone is aware of the clock in the game and the score line. But yeah, I think for us, we stuck together as a team, knew what we needed to do, and executed it."

Bright also touched on the atmosphere inside Amex Stadium, saying they feel the pressure, but are "loving every minute".

"[It was] probably one of the biggest [nights of my career] to be honest," she said. "Just with it being our home Euros and, you know, having all the fans there and the atmosphere is incredible. 

"Everyone keeps talking about the pressure that's on us, but we embrace every moment, we're embracing the fans.

"There's always pressure in football at the highest level, so we've all dealt with that in the past, and yeah, we're just loving every minute."

Athletic Club's Inaki Williams announced he will opt to represent Ghana in international football on Tuesday, having previously played for Spain.

Born in Bilbao to Ghanaian parents, Williams has made one appearance for La Roja at senior international level but in a friendly, coming on as a substitute against Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2016.

Also part of Spain's run to the Under-21 Euro 2017 final, Williams' ability to switch allegiance falls under FIFA's eligibility rules change of 2003, when Tim Cahill opted to play for Australia after representing Western Samoa at junior level.

Posting on social media, the 28-year-old striker believes it is an opportunity to cultivate a deeper connection to his origins.

"Every step we take forward has its own meaning - a glance into the future which leaves a trace itself," he said. "A legacy. My parents have raised me with values based on humility, respect and love.

"That's why I feel the moment has come for me to find my origins within myself and with Africa and Ghana which means so much to me and my family."

At club level, Williams holds the LaLiga record for consecutive appearances at 233 games, after breaking the previous mark of 202 in October.

Ghana Football Association president Kurt Okraku also tweeted Tariq Lamptey, Stephan Ambrosius, Patric Pfeiffer and Ransford Yeboah are all set to confirm their allegiance to the Black Stars.

All five diaspora members could bolster Ghana's prospects at this year's World Cup, where they have been grouped with Portugal, Uruguay and South Korea.

Pedri has been hailed as "the Iniesta, the Xavi" of the Spain team that will go after World Cup glory in Qatar.

The praise came from former Liverpool and Newcastle United left-back Jose Enrique, a player who was crowded out of the Spain squad by the country's last golden generation.

Jose Enrique's peak playing years coincided with Spain's most dominant period in international football, and although he does not consider Luis Enrique's squad quite at that same level, the likes of Barcelona youngster Pedri make him optimistic for the World Cup.

Spain won Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and Euro 2012 in a sensational period of dominance. They have not won a major tournament since, but a burgeoning group of young talent is emerging once again, with 19-year-old midfielder Pedri among the most exciting talents in the world game.

"To me, the player that has more projection in terms of image on that team is Pedri, he won't be out of the team," said Jose Enrique.

"You also have Ferran Torres doing well for Barcelona and Pau [Torres], the central defender of Villarreal; I think he will be key for the team as well."

Speaking to Stats Perform, Jose Enrique said Spain's final squad for the finals would be "difficult to predict" due to head coach Luis Enrique often filtering players in and out of his squad.

"But to choose one who will make the difference 100 per cent, and that already did in the past, it is Pedri," Jose Enrique said.

"For me, he is the star of the national team, the Iniesta, the Xavi. Back in that day it was different because there were many and that is why Spain won everything. But if you mention Spain now, the first player that comes to my mind is Pedri."

Pedri endured an injury-disrupted 2021-22 season with Barcelona, scoring five goals and having one assist in 22 games across all competitions. Only five Barcelona players created more chances than the 31 he carved out.

In the previous season, he played a team-high 52 matches, going on to win Tuttosport's prized Golden Boy award as Europe's top young talent. He will be expected to continue to grow into his responsible role in coach Xavi's Barcelona team in the new season.

Barcelona greats Xavi and Iniesta were at the heart of Spain's indomitable midfield for their three successive big tournament triumphs.

Jose Enrique was starring in the Premier League at the time but got no further than the Spain Under-21 team, such was the strength throughout the national squad.

He says the current group of players and the pool that brought glory to Spain during a dazzling four-year period cannot be compared, but stressed that does not mean the new breed cannot be successful.

A run to the Euro 2020 semi-finals was a step in the right direction for Spain, after a run of disappointing big-stage performances, fuelling Jose Enrique's belief they will be a threat when Qatar hosts in November and December.

Spain must navigate a challenging group that will see them face Germany, Japan and Costa Rica.

"Spain will always be one of the favourites because I believe that Spain always is," Jose Enrique said. "But to win a World Cup isn't easy and Spain did it: Euro-World Cup-Euro when they had a brutal selection of players, and now it is completely different.

"It has a magnificent coach and a squad that changes depending on the players' performances and I love this about Luis Enrique, but it is true that we cannot compare.

"We now have a young squad with few veterans, and they could win the World Cup because anything can happen in football. England had a very young squad and made it to the [2018 World Cup] semi-finals.

"Youngsters have more support than before and Spain can be a surprise because Luis Enrique knows very well how to play. He has young players but full of desire and hunger. The most important thing for me is to start well. If they do, they are capable to win against any team, and why not Germany."

Spain's appeal over their disqualification from the 2023 Rugby World Cup has been dismissed, with Romania taking their place in next year's tournament.

Los Leones booked a place in the competition for the first time in 24 years in March through the Rugby Europe Championship.

However, World Rugby announced in April that Spain had been booted out of the competition after being found to have fielded an ineligible player in two preliminary matches.

South African Gavin Van den Berg played twice for Spain, but his eligibility was questioned by rivals Romania, with World Rugby deciding he did not fit the criteria.

To qualify on residency rules, players involved in qualifying needed to have lived in their chosen country for 36 consecutive months.

The Spanish Rugby Federation (FER) pinned the blame on an alleged forgery of Van den Berg's passport, and they submitted new evidence to help support their appeal.

However, it was ruled inadmissible because the FER "had not adequately explained" why the evidence had not been made available prior to the first hearing.

World Rugby therefore upheld the previous decision and added that Spain – who also suffered a points deduction for fielding an ineligible player in their failed 2019 World Cup qualifying campaign – had no further right to appeal.

Romania will replace Spain in Pool B, which also contains Ireland, Scotland, reigning world champions South Africa and either an Asian or Pacific qualifier.

Portugal will take Romania's place in the Final Qualification Tournament in November 2022, with the competition itself scheduled to begin in France on September 8 next year.

Luis Enrique is in no doubt Spain can compete with the very best in the world after watching his side cruise past the Czech Republic 2-0 in the Nations League on Sunday.

Carlos Soler and Pablo Sarabia were on target in each half as La Roja moved top of Group A2 following Portugal's 1-0 defeat to Switzerland.

The win, which stretched Spain's unbeaten run to eight games, means their progress to the Nations League finals could be sealed before their final group game against Portugal.

Should they beat Switzerland in their penultimate game and Portugal lose to the Czech Republic, Spain will seal their place in the tournament.

Luis Enrique was pleased with his side's display at La Rosaleda in Malaga, yet acknowledged there is room for improvement.

"I am very satisfied, how can I not be?" he said in a media conference.

"The rival has shown how good they are, in all aspects. We have been quite good, although we lacked some things.

"The atmosphere was wonderful, with lots of cheering and respect for the anthem of the rival. I hope it repeats itself and serves as an example.

"We are leaders and we have been good in general. Ask the rivals what they feel when playing with us. Surely we will compete [against anyone]."

Marco Asensio was particularly bright for Spain, teeing up Soler's goal to move level with Jordi Alba as the joint-highest goal creator under Luis Enrique's leadership (seven assists).

He played more key passes (three) than any other player on the pitch, and Luis Enrique says the fact he is not a regular starter at Real Madrid is not an issue.

"I always called him up when I saw him doing well," he said. "Now he has been playing less. We like him and he knows it. There are no doubts with him."

Unai Simon made important saves from Vaclav Cerny and Jan Kuchta before Soler's opener, with Luis Enrique pleased at his goalkeeper's decisiveness. 

"He chose well in decision-making," he added. "He gives us a lot with the ball in aerial aspects. He has been good.

"It gives me a lot of peace of mind, and I am the one who makes decisions. He has saved us and that's what the goalkeeper is for."

Spain made it back-to-back wins to go top of Nations League Group A2 as goals from Carlos Soler and Pablo Sarabia sealed a 2-0 win over the Czech Republic on Sunday.

Luis Enrique's side edged past Switzerland on Thursday after opening their campaign with two draws, and they racked up another win at La Rosaleda in Malaga. 

Valencia midfielder Soler scored the opening goal shortly after the midway point in the first half – his third strike at international level.

And substitute Sarabia made sure of all three points in the 75th minute as La Roja usurped Portugal, who lost 1-0 in Switzerland, at the top of the group. 

Unai Simon denied Vaclav Cerny and Jan Kuchta inside the opening 20 minutes as the visitors started brightly.

Yet Spain went ahead with their first attempt on goal in the 24th minute, Soler drilling past Ales Mandous from eight yards after running onto Marco Asensio's pull-back.

Soler then clipped wide soon after as Spain fell short of doubling their advantage before the interval.

Simon pushed away a long-range drive from Alex Kral midway through a tepid second half as both sides struggled to build any momentum. 

That was until Sarabia followed up his winner against Switzerland with another goal three minutes after being introduced for Asensio, the attacking midfielder nudging home from Ferran Torres' low cross to wrap up maximum points.

 

What does it mean? Victory moves Spain to group summit

After a sluggish start to their Nations League campaign, Spain are well and truly up and running now.

A second consecutive win moved them onto eight points, one ahead of Portugal. The Czech Republic, meanwhile, remain in third with four points from their opening four games.

Asensio shines

Asensio's pass for Soler's goal means no player has provided more assists for Spain under Luis Enrique's leadership (seven, level with Jordi Alba). He was Spain's biggest threat here, playing more key passes (three) than any other player on the pitch.

Morata goes missing

Alvaro Morata endured a game to forget up front for the hosts. The 29-year-old failed to have a single shot or play a key pass before he was hauled off for Torres in the 59th minute.

What's next?

Both sides complete their Group A2 campaigns in September. Spain are at home to Switzerland before visiting Portugal, while the Czech Republic host Portugal and then travel to Switzerland.

Spain made it back-to-back wins to go top of Nations League Group A2 as goals from Carlos Soler and Pablo Sarabia sealed a 2-0 win over the Czech Republic on Sunday.

Luis Enrique's side edged past Switzerland on Thursday after opening their campaign with two draws, and they racked up another win at La Rosaleda in Malaga. 

Valencia midfielder Soler scored the opening goal shortly after the midway point in the first half – his third strike at international level.

And substitute Sarabia made sure of all three points in the 75th minute as La Roja usurped Portugal, who lost 1-0 in Switzerland, at the top of the group. 

Unai Simon denied Vaclav Cerny and Jan Kuchta inside the opening 20 minutes as the visitors started brightly.

Yet Spain went ahead with their first attempt on goal in the 24th minute, Soler drilling past Ales Mandous from eight yards after running onto Marco Asensio's pull-back.

Soler then clipped wide soon after as Spain fell short of doubling their advantage before the interval.

Simon pushed away a long-range drive from Alex Kral midway through a tepid second half as both sides struggled to build any momentum. 

That was until Sarabia followed up his winner against Switzerland with another goal three minutes after being introduced for Asensio, the attacking midfielder nudging home from Ferran Torres' low cross to wrap up maximum points.

Jordi Alba implored Barcelona to come together and be "more united than ever" as the LaLiga giants battle financial difficulties.

Xavi and Blaugrana president Joan Laporta are looking to strengthen in the transfer window after finishing second in the league, some 13 points behind champions Real Madrid.

Robert Lewandowski has emerged as the main target from Bayern Munich, but doubts persist as to whether Barca can afford the Poland talisman, who has made his desire to move to Camp Nou clear.

LaLiga chief Javier Tebas suggested Barca must sell their prized assets, such as Frenkie de Jong to Manchester United, to afford Lewandowski.

Laporta hit back by insisting Tebas was intending to "harm" Barca's interests, but Blaugrana economic vice-president Eduard Romeu acknowledged sales were needed to help ease the club's worries.

Alba, speaking before Spain's Nations League clash with Czech Republic on Sunday, admitted he would like more signings but understands the situation his side is in.

"It's the situation we're in. It's not always going to be rosy. Barca would like to be in a better economic situation," he told reporters.

"We're going to go out and if we can't sign we'll have to pull from the academy, where there are very good players.

"It's the idea that the club has and I can't say more. I'd like to sign many players, but the situation is this. We have to be more united than ever, say it all behind closed doors and that's it."

Alba, Sergi Roberto, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets were named as the joint captains of Barca when Lionel Messi left amid financial struggles at the start of the 2021-22 season.

On Friday, Roberto became the fourth of the captains to agree a new contract with Barca, with the other three all reportedly taking a significant drop in wages to ease the financial burden.

While Alba was delighted to see Roberto extend his stay with Xavi's team, the left-back assured the captains are committed to the project.

"There should be no doubt of our commitment to the club. I can't control what is said in the press or outside our reach, nor do I want to," Alba added. 

"The needs of the club are what they are and we will be here to help. The four captains will help and I'm sure some more. We have always been committed to the club and we will continue to be.

"It's been a difficult year at club level but I'm convinced that next year will be much better."

Luis Enrique cited the struggles of France in the Nations League as debates continue as to the strength of Spain's World Cup credentials.

Spain play their final Nations League fixture of this window on Sunday, at home to Czech Republic, having picked up just five points from three games.

A pair of draws with Portugal and Czech Republic preceded a narrow 1-0 victory over strugglers Switzerland.

Luis Enrique defended his team selection and knowledge of football after the latter win, and the Spain coach again went on the front foot when asked about what La Roja's Nations League term meant for Qatar 2022.

"It's not about what I understand or don't understand. It's about looking at things with perspective. Nobody is interested in the other results of Group A," he told reporters. 

"If someone expects us to win every game then they do not know what modern football is.

"Look at the struggles of France, champion of the world and Nations League – we are not different. But we are a great team that can beat any rival, that's for sure."

As for who is the favourite for the World Cup, Luis Enrique finds it hard to look past two South American giants.

"I see Argentina above the rest and Brazil too, well above the rest," he added.

Alvaro Morata also came in for special praise from Luis Enrique, who believes the striker is the best defensive forward on the continent.

"All wingers can play as a nine. The strikers that I have brought not all of them can play as a winger," he continued.

"Morata can. I am not going to compare players but on a defensive level, no one beats Morata in Europe. He has an intelligence when it comes to pressing and physical conditions beyond any doubt.

"Then on top of that with the ball he has been very good, he has given us superiority. We want those who participate to know that they have an offensive side and another clear defensive one.

"With us if they don't do the defensive work, we can't be compact."

Spain boss Luis Enrique was in a prickly mood as he defended his team's performance after a 1-0 win over Switzerland in the Nations League on Thursday.

Pablo Sarabia scored the lone goal of the match in the 13th minute, getting on the end of Marcos Llorente's driven pass across the penalty area for a simple tap-in after a quick regain of possession.

That Sarabia's goal came in that scenario spoke to the nature of Spain's possession over the 90 minutes, with Switzerland firing just as many shots with 34 per cent of the ball in comparison to La Roja's 66 per cent.

When asked on Diego Llorente's second start in three games, after making only three appearances since 2020 coming into this international window, Luis Enrique went on the front foot both on selection and approach.

"I know a lot about football and he [Llorente] comes because he is among the best," 'Lucho' said. "He has played continuously. Both him and Pau [Torres]. They found [Sergio] Busquets many times, which is important.

"Marco Asensio has given us things. Morata has been spectacular and with either as our number nine, they have put us favourable scenarios.

"Yes, when they pressure us, they take us to one side of the pitch and we don't have solutions. When you do it very well you can hit a ball up to the forward, and we alter their pressure.

"We are good there too, but it is not our identity. Our identity is to play with the ball. In these games, I insist. You have to have personality to play."

 

Much like in the Euro 2020 quarter-final, Switzerland were able to create specific problems in transition, while remaining compact in defensive phases to largely deny Spain sustainable avenues to goal.

It has been a running theme for Luis Enrique's side in this start to the Nations League, where high volumes of possession did not translate to dominance in shot volume and quality in draws against Portugal and the Czech Republic.

The 52-year-old Spain boss pointed to Switzerland's quality as a team and their record at home – where they were previously unbeaten in a competitive game since 2014 – to validate his own team's performance.

"Switzerland are in the World Cup and will give us problems," Enrique said. "For me the mistake is not having the ball in the opposite end of the field. We defend with the ball.

"The result conditions everything. This is how football works. This team had 23 matches without losing an official match at home. Winning away is very difficult. It has cost, how could it be otherwise.

"The game is conditioned by the result. I'm happy for the spirit of the players and their attitude. It is a positive match that gives us the possibility to still depend on ourselves.

"Switzerland have been undefeated for eight years, 23 official games without losing at home and we had the opportunity to beat them."

Fernando Santos acknowledged there is still plenty of work for Portugal to do to finish above Spain in their Nations League group but is content with the fact his side are sitting pretty atop the pool.

Portugal, who won the inaugural tournament in 2019, moved two points clear at the top of Group A2 with a 2-0 win over the Czech Republic in Lisbon on Thursday.

Spain leapfrogged the Czech Republic into second place courtesy of a 1-0 victory over bottom-placed and pointless Switzerland, coming on the back of successive draws.

The two heavyweights drew 1-1 last week and are due to meet again in the final round of fixtures, but Portugal must first travel to Switzerland and the Czech Republic.

And with only half of the campaign played, Santos is not taking anything for granted at this stage.

"We are first, which is always good," he told Portuguese television station RTP3. "But the other teams in our group also want to win. There are still three games to go.

"Spain also won today and we are now two points ahead. Naturally the group is still open. It will also be resolved in the final games in September, not now."

Portugal were good value for their victory at Estadio Jose Alvalade, where first-half goals from Joao Cancelo and Goncalo Guedes proved enough.

The Selecao had five shots on target to the visitors' one and ended with an expected goals (xG) value of 1.34 to 0.71.

 

While the margin of victory could have been even greater, Guedes was pleased with Portugal's ninth win in their past 11 matches since exiting Euro 2020 at the last-16 stage.

"We played a great game, especially in the first half," he said. "We tried to take advantage of the spaces and circulate the ball, which we managed to do.

"In the second half we tired more, but they're a good team and tried to cancel us out. We wanted more goals but couldn't find them.

"This was still an important victory and a great game on our part. We want to finish first and advance as far as possible in the competition, which we can do with victories."

Bernardo Silva set up both of Portugal's goals and now has three assists this Nations League campaign, which is more than any other player.

He created four big chances in total, while only Cancelo (three) completed more dribbles than Silva's two, despite being taken off 22 minutes from time.

Explaining that substitution, and his selection plans against Switzerland on Sunday, Santos told Sport TV: "Players start to feel tired – that's natural.

"He was very influential for us again today. But he used up his batteries early, and when that happens he could no fulfil his other roles.

"As for the team against Switzerland, you'll have to see."

Spain earned their first victory of the Nations League campaign in Switzerland on Thursday, winning 1-0 courtesy of an early Pablo Sarabia goal.

Finalists in the previous edition, Spain were frustrated in a draw with Portugal and then snatched a point against the Czech Republic before heading to Stade de Geneve.

Luis Enrique's side were not entirely convincing but got their win at the third time of asking, with Switzerland unable to respond to Sarabia's 13th-minute strike.

Bigger aims are on the horizon for La Roja, yet they remain firmly in contention for another Nations League run as a result.

Early Spanish pressure told when Marcos Llorente got in behind and squared for a simple Sarabia finish, with the scorer given the benefit of the doubt following a marginal offside call and lengthy VAR review.

Switzerland's only first-half attempts were miscued headers from Breel Embolo and Eray Comert, who each might have done better, although Sarabia also passed up an opportunity for his second when he blazed over.

Chances were even more sparse into the second half, with Switzerland gaining a foothold without really threatening.

Llorente whipped a left-footed shot wide, but Sarabia had continued to be the game's most dangerous player and his withdrawal just past the hour mark teed up a low-key finale.

What does it mean? Another successful Swiss trip

The Nations League ensures Spain are regularly playing high-level opponents, but there may have been some concern if the national team went three competitive matches without a victory in a World Cup year.

A trip to Switzerland was the ideal tonic then, for Spain are now unbeaten in all of their 11 matches in the country – their best such record anywhere.

Pablo predictably pivotal

Escaping the Paris Saint-Germain bench, Sarabia enjoyed an outstanding season at Sporting CP and has also become a key figure at international level. He has scored three goals and assisted another in his past four appearances, with his nine goal involvements in the past 12 months leading all Spain players.

Llorente's involvement in the goal was perhaps a little less expected. A superb player he may be, but this was the Atletico Madrid man's second assist outside of Spain for club or country across his entire career.

Gavi given rough treatment

Barcelona teenager Gavi catches the eye every time he plays, and this match was no different in that sense, with one outrageous sequence seeing the midfield execute a 'sombrero' over Xherdan Shaqiri and then dance past Granit Xhaka.

But that piece of skill, like other rare moments of Spanish brilliance, was followed by a foul. Switzerland conceded 21 of them, including seven to poor Alvaro Morata.

What's next?

Spain get another shot at the Czech Republic, this time at home on Sunday, when Switzerland host Portugal.

Luis Enrique acknowledged Spain have "many things to improve" on after La Roja were fortunate to draw against the Czech Republic.

Gavi, aged 17 years and 304 days, became the youngest ever player to score for Spain as he curled in to cancel out Jakub Pesek's fourth-minute opener in Prague.

The Barcelona midfielder's strike also meant Spain have scored in 16 straight games in all competitions, only twice achieving such longer streaks in history.

Jan Kutcha then again edged Czech Republic ahead in the Nations League encounter as he chipped over the onrushing Unai Simon in the second half.

But there was to be late drama as Inigo Martinez's 90th-minute header snatched a point for Spain, who sit two points behind Group A2 joint-leaders Czech Republic and Portugal after two games.

With just one team progressing to the Nations League finals, Luis Enrique was glad to pick up a point but urged his side to improve.

Asked whether the stalemate would keep the critics quiet, the Spain coach told reporters: "Noise is the most beautiful thing in the world of football. I know what I play, I know where I'm going. 

"There are many things to improve. But the best thing about drawing is that the rival does not add three points.

"The important thing is that the rival does not escape us."

Luis Enrique was also quick to heap praise on teenage star Gavi after yet another fine performance in midfield.

"I know Gavi very well, I've been watching videos for five years of him. If there was any player who we wanted in that position in the first half, it was him," he added. 

"Either he shoots or he gets into the area, and that conviction is unstoppable."

Inigo Martinez scored a late equaliser as Spain salvaged a 2-2 draw in the Nations League with the Czech Republic.

Luis Enrique vowed to rotate after Spain's opening Group A2 stalemate with Portugal and made eight changes in Prague, where Jakub Pesek struck after just four minutes.

Kuchta nudged Jaroslav Silhavy's side ahead again in the second half after Gavi's first-half equaliser, before Martinez popped up in the 90th minute to snatch a point.

The stalemate left Spain three points Group A2 joint-leaders Czech Republic and Portugal, who eased past Switzerland on Sunday.

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