The Nations League: changing the international football landscape?
By Jonathan Copping, Stone King LLP, London, UK
This month, the new Nations League kicked off in Europe.
Yet another football tournament in an already overcrowded calendar, with a complicated format, as explained below.
The aim of the League, the creature of UEFA, is to replace meaningless friendlies with competitive matches that offer promotion and relegation opportunities as well as a potential route to Euro 2020.
It is important to note that the Nations League is not replacing the traditional qualifying groups that determine which teams qualify for the European Championships. The qualifiers for Euro 2020 will commence in March 2019 and conclude in November 2019.
However, one may ask, does the new League fulfil a sporting need or is it just another money-spinner for UEFA?
How does The Nations League work?
The 55 European national teams are divided into four leagues. The national teams were placed according to their UEFA coefficient ranking.
There are four leagues (A, B, C and D) and within each league, there are four groups (A1, A2, A3 and A4).
Each group in each league has three teams, save for the groups in League D, which have four teams. Each team will play each other team in its group, home and away, between September and November 2019.
The team that finishes top of its group will be promoted to the League above, whilst the team that finishes bottom of its group will be relegated to the League below.
In respect of League A, the four group winners will play in knockout competition (semi-finals, third-place match and final) in June 2019 and the winner will become the champion of the Nations League.
Qualifying for Euro 2020
As mentioned above, the qualifying groups will remain the same as previous; however, the introduction of The Nations League, now offers teams the opportunity to qualify for Euro 2020.
There will be ten qualifying groups for Euro 2020 and the winner and runner-up of each group will automatically qualify for Euro 2020. That will leave four places to be won through the play-offs in March 2020 and herein is the major difference for qualification to Euro 2020. The play-offs will be contested by the 16 Nations League group winners.
If a team has already qualified for Euro 2020 through the normal qualifying route, then their spot will pass to the next best-ranked team in their Nations League. If a League does not have four teams to compete, the remaining places are allocated to teams from another Nations League, according to the overall Nations League ranking.
The overall result of The Nations League is that it will mean that lower-ranked teams have the opportunity to qualify for Euro 2020. It is possible that ten of twelve teams in League A of The Nations League will qualify through the normal qualifying route; therefore, leaving two spaces in the play-offs for teams from different Nations Leagues. Additionally, the Euro 2020 play-off teams will remain in accordance with the Nations League, i.e. League D teams will only play each other in the play-offs, they will not have to play a League A team. That will mean that one of the sixteen lowest-ranked UEFA national teams will qualify for Euro 2020.
It is too early to say whether the introduction of The Nations League is going to be a positive step forward for international football within Europe.
Certainly, there was a need to overhaul the dull friendlies that have taken place in international football with something of meaning. Furthermore, the opportunity for one of the lowest-ranked national teams to qualify for a major tournament would be considered by many to be a welcome change.
Nevertheless, we will see how things work out in the practice and whether the new League gets a red card or not from football fans!