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Inaugural Nations League preview: Who wants to be friendly?

Wednesday 5th September 2018

UEFA’s brand new international competition kicks off this week. The Nations League was formed for two purposes.

  1. To replace meaningless friendlies that interrupt league schedules with competitive matches.
  2. To give smaller nations with fewer resources a better opportunity to reach a major tournament.

Club executives and fans alike abhor friendlies. Supporters’ money fills club coffers. Teams use those funds to sign and pay players. National federations with no financial stake can then borrow those players, frequently return them in damaged condition and for what? A friendly does nothing but line the federation’s pockets. It’s one thing when a country is attempting to qualify for the Euros or World Cup, although even then matches against minnows like the Faroe Islands and Kosovo hold no entertainment value while still risking top players’ health.

UEFA decided to kill two birds with one stone while giving clubs and fans a reason to tolerate international football’s intrusion on their orderly league business. The Nations League divides the confederation’s 55 member nations into four ‘leagues’ as follows:

  • League A, the top 12 countries according to UEFA’s coefficient
  • League B, the next 12 countries
  • League C, the next 15 countries
  • League D, the 16 lowest-ranked countries

Rather than the balanced seeding that you’d find in the Open Championship, grouping teams like-for-like in terms of strength creates a league pyramid. Each league is divided into four groups of either three or four teams that play a home-and-away double round-robin. The four group winners in each tier then playoff. The four league champions each earn a berth in the 2020 Euros. Promotion and relegation also factor into the competition.

The traditional UEFA qualifiers still exist but only produce 20 entrants into Euro2020. Thus minnows receive an opportunity they’d never have otherwise while top teams can take two bites from the qualifying apple.

If you’re up to speed, here’s a look at each group in all four leagues.

UEFA Nations League Fixtures
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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