What is the background to the UEFA Nations League?
UEFA is an association of associations and continually discusses and reviews both club and national team competitions with its members.
So the rejuvenation of national team football and the UEFA Nations League stems from the desire of UEFA, and especially the UEFA President, to improve the quality and the standing of national team football. There is also the desire from the associations for more sporting meaning in national team football, with associations, coaches, players and supporters increasingly of the opinion that friendly matches are not providing adequate competition for national teams.
Extensive consultation and discussions started as far back as the 2011 Strategy Meeting in Cyprus and continued at a series of Top Executive Programme (TEP) meetings over the past three years, namely: the UEFA general secretaries meeting in Stockholm in 2013, the UEFA Strategy Meeting in Dubrovnik in 2014, several meetings of the UEFA National Team Competitions Committee and most recently a series of follow-up regional TEP meetings across Europe.
What is the basic format?
In the UEFA Nations League, the 54 member associations will be divided into four groups based on coefficient rankings. These groups will then be further divided into playing pools of either three or four teams. The teams in each pool play each other home and away between September and December of the season in question, with the group winners either qualifying for the final four competitions or gaining promotion. The bottom sides face relegation from their division.
In addition, the UEFA Nations League will provide teams with another chance to qualify for the UEFA EURO final tournament.
The UEFA Nations League and the UEFA EURO 2020 qualifiers will take place as follows:
• The UEFA Nations League group games will take place over six matchdays, during the "double-headers" in September, October and November 2018. The final four competition for the teams that win the four groups within the top division takes place in June 2019.
• The European Qualifiers for UEFA EURO 2020 commence in March 2019. There will be two matchdays in each of March, June, September, October and November 2019. In total, there will be six groups of five teams and four groups of six teams (ten groups in total) playing over ten matchdays (the same number as now). The winner and runner-up in each of the ten groups will qualify automatically for the UEFA EURO 2020 final tournament (June 2020).
• The four remaining UEFA EURO 2020 places will be allocated to the winners of play-off matches which will take place in March 2020:
- 16 teams will take part in the play-offs and are grouped four by four. Each group plays for one qualification spot.
- Each of the four Nations League divisions receives four play-off qualification positions to be allocated to each of the four group winners within that division.
- If any winners are already qualified through the European Qualifiers, then their play-off position will be allocated to the next best ranked team of the division in question, taking into account the global ranking within the division, then if necessary to the following division in decreasing order taking into consideration the global ranking of the relevant division.
- The four teams in each division will play two one-off semi-finals and one one-off 'final' to determine each of the four play-off winners.
What are the next steps?
Following the acceptance of the resolution on national team football at the XXXVIII Ordinary UEFA Congress in Astana on 27 March 2014, UEFA and its member associations will continue to work together to elaborate and implement the UEFA Nations League. It is envisaged that the first UEFA Nations League matches would take place in September 2018.
Will qualifying for the UEFA EURO change?
The changes to UEFA EURO qualifying make it more streamlined. The equation is now simple: 10 groups with the top two teams in each group qualifying automatically with other 4 places being awarded to UEFA Nations League play-off winners. But the key principle of the qualifiers remains, that every team can play every team.
What are the advantages for national associations and teams?
National associations and coaches in consultations with UEFA revealed that they feel that friendly internationals are not providing adequate sporting competition. The UEFA Nations League creates more meaningful and competitive matches for teams and a dedicated calendar and structure for national team football.
Top teams can also aspire to take part in the final four competitions, a new top-level event.
For middle-ranking and small nations, the UEFA Nations League will provide an extra way to qualify for UEFA EURO final tournaments. Lower-tier nations − the bottom 16 in rankings − are now guaranteed one of the 24 qualifying slots for UEFA EURO.
Lower-ranking teams who have struggled against teams ranked considerably higher than them will now get the chance to take part in balanced matches. Teams do not learn and progress by repeatedly losing; now some teams will start winning.
While the UEFA Nations League will replace most friendly internationals, there will still be space in the calendar for friendlies, especially for top teams who may want to play teams from outside Europe as they will be in groups of three teams.
Associations and teams benefit from clarity of the fixture calendar, and there is now a clear buffer between the end of UEFA EURO and FIFA World Cup, and vice-versa, and stability of income.
What are the advantages for supporters?
Supporters more than most realise that most friendlies fail to provide competitive and meaningful football. Now they will get the chance to see their teams play in more competitive matches, take part in a new competition and get a second chance to qualify for the major tournaments.
In every even year there are FIFA World Cup or UEFA EURO winners; now in every odd year there will be a UEFA Nations League champion. Football is about competition and now, just like in club football, there will be a national team champions at the end of every season.
Will this mean more demands on players and clubs?
No; the UEFA Nations League and European Qualifiers will adhere to the existing agreed international match calendar. UEFA is always keen to preserve the balance between club and international football. The new competition should, in fact, reduce demands on players and clubs with less travel envisaged for friendly matches while national teams will be playing more consistently at their own level. With double-header matchweeks, players will even go back to their clubs earlier than is currently the case.
Is this just about generating more revenue?
No, finances are not a driver for the new competition. However, the competition will have the same centralised media rights as have recently been introduced for all European Qualifiers so associations will have even more stability in their income.
Will there be no more friendly internationals?
There will certainly be fewer friendly internationals and undoubtedly fewer meaningless friendlies. However, there will still be space in the calendar for friendly internationals − particularly warm-up matches for final tournaments. UEFA is also keen that European teams will still have the chance to play teams from other confederations.
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