A brand new competition gets underway today - the Uefa Nations League. It will take place during the dates which Fifa have traditionally set aside for international friendlies, substituting friendly games for a real, league-based, biennial tournament. For the first time, categories will be established to subdivide European national teams – to be precise, teams will be separated into four categories – A, B, C and D. Within the top group - A, the four teams who finish as champions of their section will qualify directly for the Play-Offs while those who finish third will drop down to the category below. In the lower categories (B, C and D), the champions will be promoted to their next category while those who finish bottom will be relegated – obviously, not including the teams who end in last place in the bottom category (D) as there is nowhere for them to go. The groups will be determined based on each nation’s coefficient in the Fifa ranking.
Forces national team to remain competitive
I’m all in favor of it. Matches will be played during the Fifa-allocated dates in September, October and November; while the Play-Offs and final stage of the tournament will be held at the end of the seasons in which the four Group A champions are involved in – the group which Spain are in, I might add. The competition replaces friendly games for which there was little interest, and in its place a proper competition will be staged with a new trophy to be won which in turn, will oblige all national teams to maintain a high level of football and simultaneously, oblige them to try to go up a category or at least maintain their position in the division they are in. At the same time it will respect the old qualifying rounds for the Euros, which will continue as before, during the rest of the Fifa dates, and will maintain the conventional, inter-class format in which 20 teams will directly classify for the tournament proper – the top two teams from each group.
Gives everyone something to play for
One of the novelties of this new competition is that it will yield four more teams to classify for the Euros, in addition to the 20 who automatically qualify. The system which determines which four teams qualify is so complicated that when it was explained to me, that I was left pondering over the progression rules for prime numbers. What I did gather is that, however convoluted the various combinations might seem, it ensures that one representative from the third and fourth groups (C and D) and at least one from the second group will qualify. That sounds like a good idea to me. A lot of teams who previously had nothing to play for, will now have a lot at stake – to be promoted to the next category, to make sure they don’t drop down a division or even book their place in the next Euros and World Cup. I’m all for it.