Football is pretty much set in stone, isn’t it? You’ve got your World Cup, your Euros, your FA Cup, League Cup and leagues. Other than the chopping up of The Championship, League One and League Two a few years ago (and arguably the rebranding of the Europa League and previously the Champions League), the biggest change to how football’s shaped up for most of us was some 26 years ago with the advent of the Premier League. But we’ve got a new competition to get our heads around again…
It’s called the UEFA Nations League and it’s a little complicated. It needs some quick explaining. So that’s what we’re doing for you right here. We’re going to delve into why it exists, how it works and what to expect. Because we’re nice like that. Education and entertainment. Two for the price of one.
Alright, let’s get into it…
What’s the Point?
There are two main reasons behind UEFA introducing the Nations League. With its name like a summit of politicians and superheroes. Firstly, there’s a desire across football to heavily cut down on what is seen as ‘meaningless’ games. International sides have to meet up and play each other throughout the year, but when there are no qualifiers to play, the only way to test players, line-ups, tactics and formations is by playing friendlies. And let’s be frank, no one really likes friendlies, do they?
Friendlies can be tough to organise and put on for smaller nations too. So there’s that factor. But there’s also the idea that every other year is a bit of a barren wasteland when it comes to national sides. When there’s no World Cup or European Championships, summers are a bit drab. Well, no longer! Only the new Nations League will fill in those gaps. We’ll explain how below…
It looks complicated. But it’s really not. The sheer number of countries taking part may make it look messy and there are ‘co-efficient’ points and all that cobblers which, admittedly, do make things a wee bit tricky. But, in essence, it’s pretty straightforward. We promise.
There are 55 countries taking part. Each country will be in a group of three or four (depending on their seeding). There are 16 groups in total, with four in each league. Leagues A and B – the top leagues consisting of the ‘top ranked’ countries – each have four groups of three countries. Leagues C and D – the lower ranked countries each have four countries in their groups. Each nation plays the other twice, once at home and once away.
Games are played in the autumn of even-numbered years (2018, 2020, 2022, etc.) with the finals being played out the summer of the following year (2019, 2021, 2023, etc.). The finals are made up of the winners of Groups A, B, C and D from League A.
There’s also a promotion and relegation angle too. Finish bottom of a League A group and you’re relegated to a League B group and as such not able to qualify for the next year’s finals. Top your group in Leagues B, C or D and you’re promoted. So effectively a Group D country like Armenia, with three promotions across six years, could be competing in a group in League A for a chance to eventually win the thing.
To be fair, it does sound a bit complex, but we’re sure we’ll all get our heads around it eventually, eh?
We haven’t got much to say about the trophy, other than it’s quite sexy. It looks a little like someone’s twisted the Champions League trophy a bit, but we’ve gotta admit, it’s a nice bit of kit. But just how much will it be worth? We don’t mean financially. We mean is it going to be on a par with the Euros in time to come? Or will the whole tournament be a bit of an afterthought, a way of trialing new players and end up just a bit of an inconvenience like the Europa League or Carabao Cup?
It’s difficult to say. We’re pretty hopeful, though. We reckon it could be fun.
Here’s how UEFA worked out the 55 countries and which league they should be in. The draw for groups was then made using these leagues. Scroll down for the draw…
So here’s what it all looked like once the balls were picked out:
Group 1: France, Germany, Netherlands
Group 2: Belgium, Iceland, Switzerland
Group 3: Italy, Poland, Portugal
Group 4: Croatia, England, Spain
Group 1: Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine
Group 2: Russia, Sweden, Turkey
Group 3: Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Ireland
Group 4: Denmark, Republic of Ireland, Wales
Group 1: Albania, Israel, Scotland
Group 2: Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary
Group 3: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Norway, Slovenia
Group 4: Lithuania, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia
Group 1: Andorra, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia
Group 2: Belarus, Luxembourg, Moldova, San Marino
Group 3: Azerbaijan, Faroe Islands, Kosovo, Malta
Group 4: Armenia, Macedonia, Gibraltar, Liechtenstein
We wonder if Kosovo vs. Malta will be shown live on Sky…?
Well, we weren’t handed the easiest draw, but it could’ve been a whole lot worse. We were gifted an almost immediate chance to atone for the disappointment of the World Cup ’18 semi-final defeat to Croatia. And while Spain are still undeniably a force in world football, Gareth Southgate’s young Lions aren’t going to approach those games with cowed heads after their performances in Russia over the summer.
England play Spain in their very first match in the UEFA Nations League on Saturday evening, while Scotland play Albania on September 10th, Northern Ireland host Bosnia and Herzegovina on Saturday afternoon and Wales and the Republic of Ireland face each other at the Cardiff City Stadium on Thursday.
We’ll see you down there.