UEFA Nations League – Glorified Friendlies or a Serious Competition?

The draw for the inaugural UEFA Nations League took place on the 24th January 2018. And I can almost certainly guarantee that some of you reading this article are blissfully unaware of this fact.

In case you don’t know, the UEFA Nations League is a national team competition – for all teams recognised by UEFA – that will take place during the year in which there is no international tournament in the summer. So, the finals will be held in 2019, and then every four years after. The qualifying games will take place across a small period of time int the season leading up to that summer. For example, there are group matches being played in the autumn of this year.

It can get very confusing to explain the process, but essentially the teams are sorted into either League A, B, C or D  by their seeded ranking. With League A consisting of the top sides. What this essentially means is teams are playing teams that are around their level, which should theoretically create close matches.

There are 4 groups per league, and the group winners are promoted to the League above, or relegated if they finish bottom. Obviously, you can not be relegated if you come last in League D. The teams that win their groups in League A, proceed to the final shootout in the summer.

Sound exciting?

Well, there appears to be a widespread scepticism surrounding the competition. Some of this is for the same reasons that fans are criticising the introduction of VAR – the game simply isn’t used to it. It’s a new competition so its bound to feel strange in its first season. However, people are accusing the Nations League of being a tournament full of glorified friendlies. And I can see their point. The group matches will take place during the usual international breaks in the season, a point in which there would normally be friendlies. And for the big sides, this competition more than likely won’t mean much to them. Winning the Nations League won’t offer the same thrill as lifting the European Championship trophy in 2020.

But I think this is missing the point. Yes, of course the showpiece four team finals will attract attention, and predictably sponsorship and television money, I feel the Nations League is all about the lesser sides. Once the Nations League group matches have all been played, the results still remain highly relevant. If you win your Nations League group, you are into the play-offs for the Euros in 2020. Of course, this can get very complicated. If a side wins their Nations League group and have already qualified for the Euros, the next best team gets the play off position. This offers a great opportunity for lesser sides to qualify, and a safety net for the big sides should they fail to qualify.

I am Scottish. I am proud of this fact. But I will admit, we are hopeless at football. We haven’t qualified for a major tournament in twenty years now, so not at all this century. This is due to the fact we always end up in groups with at least two sides who are stonger than we are, so we have to defy the odds to qualify. Which of course, never happens. Despite the efforts of Leigh Griffiths from a dead ball situation.

Scotland have been matched up with Albania and Israel in their Nations League group. Sounds very winnable. So if we do win it, we are into the play-offs for the Euro finals, which is always a lottery. My point is, it offers a different route for qualification for teams that tend not to qualify. And for me, that’s what international football is all about. The pride in your country, the sheer feeling of national joy. Something that is missing in England, which is why you all hate it.

I think the UEFA Nations League will be a success. Who cares if they are just glorified friendlies? Still makes them more exciting. We get a few football matches to watch in an otherwise baron summer, and it spices up the qualification for the Euros. Let’s hope it lives up to the bill.

What do you make of this new format? Let us know in the comments below!