UEFA will be introducing something called the Nations League in 2018 as a way to garner more interest in European football matches. Teams currently play seemingly-meaningless friendlies at the moment whenever they’re not trying to qualify for the World Cup or European Championships and UEFA wants to change this. Therefore, a new league will be kicking off in September which involves all 55 European national sides.
One of the reasons for the new league is to help minnows such as Andorra and Gibraltar find somebody to play against on international days and the other is to generate more revenue and interest. This new league will take some getting used to and it’s a bit complicated when it comes to how it affects the qualifying process for Euro 2020. So to help simplify things we’ve listed everything you need to know about UEFA’s Nations League tournament.
The Nations League is a brainchild of UEFA, not FIFA, so it means only European teams will be participating. In case you’re unfamiliar with UEFA, the organization is the governing body for European football and this new competition will include the senior men’s national squads for the current 55 member nations of the organization.
This means all your favorite sides from Albania to Wales will be included, as well as everybody in between, regardless of skill level and size of the country. However, weak nations will basically be grouped with other weak nations, giving them a chance to finally win something. This isn’t really a spur-of-the-moment idea by UEFA since the roots of the Nations League can be traced back to 2011 when the concept was first discussed.
According to UEFA, this tournament will be “the rejuvenation of national team football” as it will improve the quality of the game. Basically, UEFA is trying to do away with the longstanding tradition of friendly matches and make every game appear to mean something in the grand scheme of things. So the next time you see England taking on Spain in the middle of their league seasons, most of the top players will hopefully be taking part instead of sitting at home nursing their “injuries.” This new format is intended to make the games less boring for the managers, fans, players, associations and presumably the TV broadcasters and their advertisers. UEFA feels friendly matches simply aren’t meaningful anymore and that’s why many players have no interest in showing up for them.
As we’ve mentioned this tournament is for the 55-based European teams only and yes, this does include Kosovo. The exact location of the games are yet to be decided, as fans could end up seeing their national team on tour. For example, the country’s national stadium may not always be the site of their games. When it comes to England, the team may not want to play all of its games at Wembley in London.
Instead, country’s football association may want to give supporters in other areas of England a chance to see their multi-millionaire heroes in action. Therefore fans in the south (such as in Southampton) and those in the north (in Newcastle) may end up with a game or two over the next few years. The associations still want to make money of course, so don’t expect to see any contests held in small stadiums like Yeovil or Newport.
The Nations League will actually kick off later this year, shortly after the 2018 World Cup has been held in Russia. The inaugural games will take place in September and the first winner will be crowned in June 2019. We’re going to see Nations League matches take place throughout the year on the same dates the old friendlies used to be played according to FIFA’s game calendar.
The first season’s games will be held on September 6th to 8th, September 9th to 11th, October 11th to 13th, October 14th to 16th, November 15th to 17th and November 18th to 20th. After these six dates, nations that win the four groups of the top division will meet in a knockout format in June, 2019 to determine the overall winner and runner up. A third-place match will also be held for the losers of the semifinals. The site of these games will be decided in December 2018 by the UEFA Executive Committee, with the host country being one of the finalist squads.
Football friendlies were getting pretty boring for many fans and players. When national friendlies were scheduled for the middle of November we’d see quite a few star players pull out of their squads with “injuries” and then head to sunny Spain or Dubai to thaw out. And let’s not forget the managers. Team bosses often fought tooth and nail with their national team counterparts and pleaded with them not to select a specific player.
The reason for this, of course, was club team managers didn’t want to risk their top performers coming home with a serious injury sustained in a meaningless game. Well, the risk of injury won’t disappear simply because the games are no longer seen as friendlies, but European football associations are hoping to generate more interest in the contests themselves. They’re hoping this ends up in more bums in the seats and more fans watching on TV. The ultimate result will be more money for UEFA and European football associations.
7. The Format
The format is similar to regular European soccer leagues as it comes with promotion and relegation. The 55 countries have been separated into four different leagues, A, B, C and D. The league each nation ended up in depended on the complicated national association coefficient rankings that UEFA uses. The rankings as of October 11th, 2017 were used in this case. League A has the best-ranked teams with League D having the worst etc. Each League consists of four different groups with either three or four teams in each group and each team plays the other once at home and once away.
Every group winner in League A moves on to the playoffs in June 2019. The group winners in Leagues B,C and D are promoted while the last-place team in groups A, B and C are relegated to a lower league the next season. Also, the four best nations from each League which don’t qualify for the 2020 European Championships will play off in March 2020, with one Euro spot up for grabs for each of the four leagues.
6. The Groups
Now that you have a basic idea how the Nations League works let’s take a look at the leagues, groups and teams involved in it.
Group 1: Germany, France, Holland
Group 2: Belgium, Switzerland, Iceland
Group 3: Portugal, Italy, Poland
Group 4: Spain, England, Croatia
Group 1: Slovakia, Ukraine, Czech Republic
Group 2: Russia, Sweden, Turkey
Group 3: Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Ireland
Group 4: Wales, Republic of Ireland, Denmark
Group 1: Scotland, Albania, Israel
Group 2: Hungary, Greece, Finland, Estonia
Group 3: Slovenia, Norway, Bulgaria, Cyprus
Group 4: Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Lithuania
Group 1: Georgia, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Andorra
Group 2: Belarus, Luxembourg, Moldova, San Marino
Group 3: Azerbaijan, Faroe Islands, Malta, Kosovo
Group 4: FYR Macedonia, Armenia, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar
5. How the Nations League Affects Qualification for Euro 2020
When it comes to qualifying for Euro 2020, not too much has changed. There will be 10 qualifying groups with the top two teams in each group reaching the tournament automatically. The last four of the 24 berths will be awarded via the Nations League playoff format. Each of the tournament’s 16 group winners will still have a chance to reach the Euros this way.
It’s a little complicated, but the Euro qualifiers will consist of five groups of five and and five groups of six teams and they’ll get underway in March, 2019 with the playoffs being settled in March, 2020. If a Nations League group winner has already qualified for the Euros via the usual route then the next best team in their Nations League division will qualify for the playoffs. Each Nations League division will feature a playoff system with the winner going to the Euros.
4. How Nations League Teams are Ranked
There needs to be some sort of ranking system so UEFA can keep track of who’s going to the European Championships and who’s not. The ranking of the teams in each Nations League division will be decided by the team with the most points. In the case of any ties, UEFA will break them by going to the team with the best goal difference.
If they’re still level, the tie will be decided by goals scored, then the number of away goals scored. If teams still can’t be separated it’ll then come down to wins, away victories and the squad’s disciplinary-point record. Finally, if two or more nations are still equal, the team with the highest coefficient ranking will be rated higher. This system isn’t bad as it provides an incentive for goals and clean play.
3. Will Teams Still Play Friendlies?
Since some of the UEFA Nations League groups consist of just three teams, it means one of the nations won’t be playing when match day comes around. The highest-ranked teams are in groups of three so this allows them to organize friendlies against other nations which may be sitting out on a specific day. It also enables the top European squads to schedule games against teams from other parts of the world such as Asia, Africa, South America and North America, etc. whenever they have a day off. The introduction of the Nations League will definitely cut down on the number of friendly matches each team currently plays per year and depending on your point of view that’s either a good thing or a bad thing.
2. Who Benefits From the Nations League?
The continent’s weaker teams will benefit the most, since at least one of them will reach the European Championships. They’ll also be better off financially as the broadcasting rights are reportedly going to be divided equally for all participants. The players will now be taking on opponents of the same skill level instead of the top teams thumping the weaker countries.
Remember, they’ll still be able to crush these struggling teams in the Euro qualifiers. In addition, the new competition may also mean less travel for the teams involved. Still, there’s no doubt this new tournament has something to do with money as more advertising and broadcast revenues will be one of the results of it. And last but not least, the fans will have something new to debate and there will be more meaningful games to cheer their country on.
1. The Pros and Cons of the Nations League
Some fans will see this as a pro and others a con, but the Nations League means one of the 16-lousiest teams in Europe is guaranteed to be awarded a spot at Euro 2020. On the bright side, each team is guaranteed to be playing another country of the same skill level so each match should be competitive. Another pro or con is the fact that you can still reach Euro 2020 even if you bomb in the qualifying campaign as it’s possible to reach the event through the Nations League.
The fact that each match is meaningful is a pro and rivalries may be created. In addition, the weaker teams will now have a chance to gain some confidence and start learning how to win as they’ll be playing balanced games and won’t be blown out every night. On the downside, club managers will still moan about their players being injured on international duty and fans may still see watered-down versions of their national team.