Preview of the new UEFA Nations League
Excitement is building ahead of ahead of a new international football tournament, UEFA Nations League.
The competition kicks off on 6th September with a league format, and ends with the Final Four competition next summer.
55 European nations will be competing in four different leagues. The teams have been split into four Leagues A, B, C, and D based on their UEFA ranking at the end of the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers.
Within those four leagues, each nation will then be split into four groups. And they will be made up of either three or four teams.
Within each league, four teams will be promoted at the end of the group stage. Four teams will be relegated. They will then play at their new level in the next competition in 2020.
The winners of the four groups in League A will qualify for the Final Four competition.
But there is also another upshot to the tournament. After Euro 2020 qualifying has been completed, and 20 teams have been decided, the four remaining places will be filled through a play-off system. The teams competing in this play-off will come from the Nations League. Each league gets four Euro 2020 play-off spots. If the winner of a group has already qualified for Euro 2020, the next best team which has not qualified goes into the play-offs.
The 16 teams will then play for the four remaining Euro 2020 spots. The teams play a one-off semi-final and one-off final to determine the four qualifiers.
In reality, the Nations League is UEFA’s way of adding to the competitiveness of international football compared to friendlies.
But it also allows any of the top sides who have missed out on Euro 2020 qualification another chance at qualifying through the play-off backdoor.
League A contains the majority of the big hitters, with the likes of France, Germany, Spain and England all involved.
And it all kicks off in explosive style as the current World Cup holders France meet 2014 winners, Germany on Thursday, 6th September.
Italy play Poland on Friday 7th, while England open up with a clash against Spain on Saturday 8th. Switzerland and Iceland clash on the same day.
England must get through a group consisting of the Spanish and World Cup semi-final opponents Croatia.
Germany and France do battle with the Netherlands in a ‘Group of Death’. Belgium, Switzerland and Iceland do battle in Group 2, while Portugal, Italy, and Poland complete the four groups in League A.
France and Spain are the 4/1 outright favourites to win the Final Four competition. Belgium and Germany are next at 5/1, with England out at 10/1. Check out the odds here.
Wales and the Republic of Ireland clash once again in League B, Group 4. The Celtic nations will face each other and Denmark in a highly-competitive group.
Slovakia, Ukraine, and Czech Republic meet in Group 1. Russia, Sweden, and Turkey clash in Group 2. And Austria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Northern Ireland face off in Group 3.
Every nation in League B will have their eyes set firmly on first place. The winner automatically gets a Euro 2020 play-off spot at the very least. So should a team not make it through the usual Euro 2020 qualifying process, they have another route.
Martin O’Neill’s ROI side and Ryan Giggs’ Wales are both in a bit of a transitional phase. And Denmark present a big obstacle to both.
Christian Eriksen and co. dashed the Irish’s World Cup dream in the play-offs last year. In an ironic twist of fate, Ireland had done the same to Wales in Cardiff a number of weeks previous to that.
Revenge could be a big part of the agenda in that particular group.
Scotland are the sole home nation in the League C draw. Alex McLeish’s side have been grouped with Albania and Israel.
It’s been over 20 years since the Scots qualified for a major tournament. But if they can manage to get past Israel, they’ll be massively confident of at least a play-off place. And, by proxy, promotion to League B.
In group two, Hungary, Greece, Finland, and Estonia clash. Greece will be the strong favourites to win that group. But the Euro 2004 winners will be mindful of a dangerous Hungary outfit.
Slovenia, Norway, Bulgaria, and Cyprus meet in Group 3. That one looks particularly tight with all four sides having a realistic chance of promotion, or relegation.
In the final group, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, and Lithuania go up against each other. Serbia topped their World Cup qualifying group and gave a decent account of themselves in Russia over the summer.
Nemanja Matic and co. will be ultra-confident of winning that particular pool.
The Final Four
As international tournaments go, The Final Four of the UEFA Nations League could actually be terrific value for money.
Essentially, next summer’s showpiece will be a decent precursor to the Euro 2020 finals the following year.
There will be six Matchdays in League A starting on 6th September and ending on 20th November, 2018.
The four qualifiers from each group will then clash in one-off semi-finals beginning on 5th June, 2019. And they will be followed by the finale of The Final Four on 9th June.
Some of Europe’s best players will be on show, including Paul Pogba, Cristiano Ronaldo, Leroy Sane, Antoine Griezmann, Harry Kane, and Isco among many others.
Don’t forget to take a look at the latest Nations League odds here.