Uefa hope Nations League can revolutionize football
Ratified at the XXXVIII Ordinary Uefa Congress in Astana, Kazakhstan on Thursday, the biennial competition will launch in September 2018 and will see countries split into four separate divisions, based on Uefa’s Coefficient Rankings, which will subsequently be split into four smaller pools.
Each of the division’s four pool winners will then face a ‘semi-final’ in the summer of 2019, before the two winners of these games go head-to-head in a divisional play-off final held at a neutral venue. The four winners will then qualify for the 2020 European Championship.
While the new tournament would not replace the current qualifying competitions for the European Championship, the four qualification spots would take the place of those that are currently decided by play-offs between second-placed teams. There will also be promotion and relegation between the four divisions and even two places at the 2022 World Cup made available – subject to Fifa approval.
Having already been given the green light by Uefa’s executive committee, details of the new tournament released on Tuesday were received enthusiastically by many – especially as they also aim to address the issue of international friendlies that many now believe to be archaic and meaningless.
There are critics however, not least among those who point to the bungled attempts to rebrand the Uefa Cup, which is now the bloated and far too lengthy Europa League, and the recent decision to increase the number of teams taking part in the 2020 European Championship.
Uefa, and more specifically its president Michel Platini, have been heavily criticised for expanding the tournament to 24 teams, a move that was opposed by the likes of England and Germany, who believe it will dilate the quality of the competition.
The Football Association have already backed Uefa’s idea of a new ‘Nations League’ tournament however, with FA chairman Greg Dyke saying: “In principle, we’d be quite interested. The hard thing about that is the detail but I think a Nations League where we played the top nations would be very attractive.”
On current Uefa Coefficient rankings, England would be placed in the top division with the likes of Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain, while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could play together in the third or fourth tier. The Republic of Ireland would likely feature in the second division.
The matches will be played on dates currently reserved for international friendlies, however some of these dates would be retained to permit high-profile fixtures and matches against teams from different continents.
Qualifying for the European Championship remains largely unchanged although qualifying will now begin in March following a major tournament instead of September.
World football’s governing body, Fifa, have reacted cautiously to the news of Uefa’s new competition, releasing an official statement on Wednesday that read:
“Competitions on confederation level and their formats are at the full discretion of the respective confederations, as long as they are in line with FIFA’s statutes.
“In this context, it is worth mentioning that the qualification modus for the FIFA World Cup is defined based on proposals submitted by the respective confederations for their region.
“These then have to be approved by the organising committee of the FIFA World Cup, ahead of the preliminary draw.
“At this stage, we cannot anticipate potential future scenarios for the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification.”
The Nations League will now be subjected to further discussions between Uefa and its member associations, before final details are released later this year.