UEFA Introduce Nations League as new competition to replace friendlies
Uefa has announced that its new Nations League national team competition will be introduced in 2018, while European football’s governing body has awarded its Women’s Euro 2017 tournament to the Netherlands.
The Nations League received the unanimous backing of all 54 Uefa member associations at a meeting in March and its inaugural edition will be played from September to November 2018. The competition is designed to enhance the attractiveness of national team friendlies and will replace a number of windows set aside for such games.
Uefa said the national teams of its 54 member associations will be divided into four divisions according to the Uefa coefficient rankings updated after the conclusion of the European qualifiers for the 2018 Fifa World Cup. Nations League A and B will each include four groups of three teams, whereas Nations League C will have two groups of three teams and two groups of four teams, and UEFA Nations League D will contain four groups of four teams.
In each league, the four group winners will be promoted and the four bottom-placed teams will be relegated for the next competition to be played in 2020. The overall Nations League ranking will determine the composition of the draw pots for the subsequent European qualifiers.
The four group winners of Nations League A will play in a ‘Final Four’ knock-out format in June 2019 to determine the Nations League champions. The semi-finals fixtures will be decided by draw and the venue will be appointed by the Uefa Executive Committee.
Play-offs will be included to qualify four teams for Euro 2020, which is to be staged in 13 countries across Europe with the final at London’s Wembley stadium. Each league within the Nations League will be entitled to four play-off spots. If the group winners have already qualified via the European qualifiers, the next best-ranked team(s) within the league will qualify for the play-offs. Play-off slots are dropped down to lower leagues if less than four teams remain available for a play-off qualification. There will be four groups of play-offs, each with an end winner that will secure a piece at the Euro 2020 showpiece.
Uefa said: “The key driver of the Uefa Nations League is sporting integrity, as member associations, coaches, players and supporters increasingly feel that friendly internationals are not providing adequate sporting competition. In addition, the competition will help Uefa realise its stated goal of improving the quality and standing of national team football while maintaining the balance between club and international football. The competition will establish the Uefa Nations League champions every odd year while also allowing all nations to play competitively at their level.”
Meanwhile, the Women’s Euro 2017 will be staged in the Netherlands in seven venues – Breda, Deventer, Doetinchem, Enschede, Rotterdam (Het Kasteel), Tilburg and Utrecht. A record 46 teams will compete in the qualifying round, attempting to join the Netherlands in the newly-expanded 16-team final tournament. Austria, France, Israel, Poland, Scotland and Switzerland had also expressed an interest in the event when the bidding process opened in June 2013. Sweden staged the previous edition of the championships last year, with Germany defeating Norway in the final.
In other news, the Uefa Executive Committee has prohibited Crimean clubs from playing in competitions organised by the Russian Football Union (RFS) as from January 1 and for the region to be considered as a “special zone” for football purposes until further notice. Furthermore, the RFS may not organise any football competition in Crimea, without the consent of Uefa and the Football Federation of Ukraine (FFU).