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World Football: Introducing…the UEFA Nations League!

UEFA Nations League
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND - JANUARY 24: Audience during the UEFA Nations League Draw 2018 at Swiss Tech Convention Center on January 24, 2018 in Lausanne, Switzerland. (Photo by Robert Hradil/Getty Images)

You all know that the UEFA Champions League is European World Football’s showcase event, right? If not, you are either clearly new to the sport or too immersed in the pro/rel-unfriendly competition that is MLS (with all due respect). But did you know that there is another tournament that the Union of European Football Associations is cooking up, involving all 55 national teams?

The UEFA Nations League, or UNL for short, was a concept designed back in 2013. A Norwegian Football Association president, Yngve Hallén, mentioned that the design of the Nations League was taking shape. With the current World Cup qualification process potentially leaving out big names (those fears were confirmed with Italy and the Netherlands failing to win their playoff) and with the minnows unable to regularly schedule comparable international competition, a new tournament was needed to fill in the gaps following the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

And so the UEFA Nations League was created. There are four divisions in the Nations League: A, B, C, and D. There are 12 teams in League A, 12 teams in League B, 15 teams in League C and 16 teams in League D. You can see how the draw unfolded in the clip below.

In the top division of League A, the group winners advance to the Nations League finals. Promotion and relegation is also implemented. So, for instance, France, who are in the same League A group with Germany and the Netherlands, could be dropping within consecutive years into League D, where the worst teams in Europe are, if they go on a losing streak in this competition.

A double benefit to the Nations League is streamlining qualification for the UEFA European Championship and future FIFA World Cup cycles. For example, while the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifiers still exist, the Nations League will send 16 non-qualifiers from that set of qualifiers into the play-offs divided into the four groups mentioned: A, B, C, and D. That will determine the last four teams to qualify for UEFA Euro 2020. Thus, the Nations League is a safety net for the UEFA European Championship. A similar layout will most likely be used for the European playoffs for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar and for future editions of that tournament.

This is a concept that could be successfully implemented in similar fashion in similarly stacked confederations such as the Asian Football Confederation and the Confederation of African Football. CONMEBOL already has its own version for the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, predating the UEFA Nations League, as it uses a league format to determine the best sides for the world’s premier football competition.

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On the flip side, this is a concept that will not succeed in confederations such as the Oceania Football Confederation and the Confederation of North and Central American and Caribbean Football. In the OFC, the only strong team in New Zealand and they have yet to have a direct route to the big dance. And in CONCACAF, there are only a handful of relatively noteworthy teams in Mexico, the USA, Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago (yes, they are in this because of one Alvin Jones) with the rest of the field miles behind in terms of talent and skill. Actually, a CONCACAF Nations League may as well be called the Mexico Invitational (sponsored by Azteca Soccer? Hmmmm….) because we all know who runs the show out here…compadres.

It’s not America.

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