The Union of European Football Association, or UEFA, is one of the six continental confederations under the governance of FIFA. It’s noted for organizing two of the most famed European club tournaments – the UEFA Europa League and the UEFA Champions League. The organization also conducts the UEFA European Championships once every four years, enabling its 55 member nations to battle for Europe’s top footballing glory. However, since 2014, UEFA has been planning to organize a new European tournament that aims to replace intermittent international friendly matches by a more meaningful event. The tournament, called the UEFA Nations League, began its inaugural season in September 2018.
Since the idea was first pitched in 2014, it’s constantly been on UEFA’s radar. Following the success of European national teams in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, UEFA decided it was time to implement the Nations League. The League eliminates the participation of European nations in meaningless international friendlies that takes place in between the Club Football season. During such an international break, players temporarily re-join their national squad and engage in friendly matches against other nations. While it provided an opportunity for national team managers to experiment with their team, the matches didn’t cater to audiences as it was drowned out in boredom.
Instead, now European players would join their national squad to take part in the UEFA Nations League. Each season of the tournament will be played from September to November of an even-numbered year (pool stage), and June of the following odd-numbered year (Finals). Thus, a UEFA Nations League champion will be crowned every two years. Prior to the start of the tournament, teams will be segregated into four leagues as per their UEFA national team coefficients. League A would feature the top teams while League D would constitute of so-called ‘minnows’. Each league would then be divided into four sub-groups, consisting of either three or four teams. Throughout the duration of the tournament’s pool stage, each nation of a sub-group would play a home and away match against two or three opponents.
The winners of each sub-group of League A would qualify into the semi-finals of the Nations League, and play the corresponding knockout matches in the following year. However, winning the competition is not the only goal of the tournament. The team coming in last in each sub-group would be relegated to the next bottom league, and teams coming in first from League B, C, and D would be promoted to the above league. The final standings would determine the seeding of the UEFA European Championships qualifying playoff. The qualifiers would determine the 20 out of the 24 teams that qualify for the European Championships the following year. And how do the remaining 4 teams get selected – you guessed it right, from the UEFA Nations League as well.
The top four teams from each League in the Nations League tournament is presented with the opportunity to play for a spot in the European Championships. In case the teams are already selected through the qualifiers, the next best-ranked team would instead be selected. This provides a unique opportunity for low ranked teams to feature in the prestigious tournament. In 2014, UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino said, “There are teams everyone wants to play against and other teams who struggle to get the opponents they’d ideally like.” The UEFA Nations League not only replaces the friendly matches organized by FIFA but also provides an opportunity for lower ranked teams to showcase their strength and abilities, which could eventually provide them a place at the European Championships.