Black and White

Oh good, the International break is here. Although it is a welcome two-week break from seeing my club lose and an opportunity to close that FPL tab on my browser, it does still raise questions. It’s my own fault, I started thinking about it last week. The UEFA Nations League will get underway, where promotion and relegation comes to International football. What does it all mean? Is there a point to it? Let’s dive inside those UEFA minds.

What is the Nations League?

Primarily designed to be an alternative to International friendlies, the inaugural Nations League will run during the 2018-19 season. I’m not saying the idea is flawed but England play a friendly next week. Anyway, all 55 UEFA national teams are involved and there are Euro 2020 qualifying spots up for grabs. UEFA’s big selling point is that teams get to play against teams of a similar standard as the 55 teams are split into four leagues according to the UEFA National Team Coefficient Rankings. In simple terms, the good teams will play against each other and not San Marino.

When is it?

It gets underway this weekend and the group stage matches are done by November. The finals are then next June, hosted by one of the four finalists.

Slow down. Four finalists?? How is the tournament structured?

The 55 nations are split into 4 leagues, let’s call them Very Good, Good, Average and Minnows. Those four leagues are then split into groups of 3, though the Minnows division has groups of 4. The bottom team in each group will be relegated to the league below for the next tournament in 2020/21. The winner of each group is promoted, whilst the winners of the Very Good groups go onto the finals in June 2019. Other than bragging rights, money and a trophy, you don’t really gain a great deal from winning the Nations League.

How does it link to Euro 2020 qualifying?

Very tenuously. The qualifying campaign remains the same, it just starts later. However whilst the top two in each group will qualify automatically, third place no longer goes into the playoffs. Instead, the playoffs will be contested by the 16 Nations League group winners – or if one of those group winners have already qualified, the next best-ranked team in their league. Where it really gets interesting though is that each league has its own 4-team play-off, which means one from the “Minnows” group is guaranteed to qualify for Euro 2020. They’ll be dancing on the streets of Azerbaijan. Basically, the group winners will get a second chance to qualify if they don’t make it through their normal qualifying group. It is all a bit of a rush though as the playoffs will take place in March 2020.

10 qualify from finishing 1st or 2nd in Euro 2020 qualifying groups.

4 qualify from the playoffs (one from each Nations League).

Remember, Euro 2020 is held across Europe so there are no automatic qualifiers.

What chance do the home nations have? Can I watch?

England are the only home nation who can win the Nations League as they are in the top League. However they are in a group with Spain and Croatia, so it might end up in a relegation battle. Wales, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are all in the Good league, in fact, Wales and the Republic of Ireland are in the same group along with Denmark. Northern Ireland have Austria and Bosnia. Scotland find themselves in the third tier in a group with Albania and Israel – which should give them a great chance of winning the group and securing a play-off opportunity. In that respect, you have to agree they are better than friendlies.

Sky have coverage of every game and they are tiered between Thursday and Sunday so you can watch a bit of everything during the International break.

Will it work?

It seems to favour the “smaller” teams who qualify less often. For example, Scotland could win their group containing Albania and Israel, tank qualifying and then go into a play-off with Slovenia, Hungary and Romania. You would expect most if not all of the 12 teams in the top league to qualify automatically which means their play-off spots will go to the next higher ranked nations involved, there’s a lot of second chances on offer. I can’t help but feel the winners of the Nations League should get a qualifying spot or something as I’m really not sure how serious teams will take it. There will be a sort of mini-tournament next summer for the finals, which is a nice idea but will infuriate club managers more than anything.

We’ll be back to normal next week but I hope this has cleared up all your Nations League needs. Bye for now!