Tomorrow night sees the inaugural match of the UEFA Nations League takes place with, with Germany facing new World Champions France in Munich. The competition has yet to create much excitement amongst fans of any European national teams. The football press in Britain has been particularly scathing ‘Stay as far away from this as possible,’ ‘There’s no history to this,’ were familiar cries from Fleet Street and in one bizarre rant the Mail’s Martin Samuels claimed ‘It’s like Lord of the Rings!’ Ironic fora man who resembles Gimli the Dwarf!

https://theathleteshub.org/2018/09/04/uefa-nations-league-preview/

The gentlemen of the press are never happy with any new tournament or tampering with old ones from the formation of the Premier League to the introduction of VAR, their negative views have reached the point that when they get it right it feels like a stopped clock telling the correct time twice a day!

The most obvious example of this came with the formation of the Premier League, few journalists were enthusiastic and the decision to award the TV rights to Sky was widely derided. I distinctly remembered veteran writer Brian Glanville taking to TV studios to claim all seater stadiums would be terrible, Monday Night Football wouldn’t work and TV’s in pubs was an absurd idea, yeah right!

So what is the UEFA Nations League? It will effectively replace international friendlies from next season- there are 4 divisions divided into 4 groups of 3 with the winners from Division A advancing to a 4 team mini tournament in the summer of 2019 and promotion/ relegation from the 4 divisions for the next Nations League.

Why it should work

Whilst the popularity of World Cup & European Championships have never been higher internationals between tournaments have increasingly become a backwater, particularly for the larger nations. The reasons for this are two fold- firstly the bigger nations are repeatedly playing friendlies against each other: when England played Germany in November it was their third friendly meeting in 18 months, similarly England have played France & Holland twice in the last 2 years. These repeated friendly encounters are eroding the appeal of these historic fixtures- playing other tier 1 teams with a competition riding on it will bring back the edge these friendlies often lack.

Secondly the expanding formats of the 2 major tournaments have watered down the difficulty of qualifying groups for the bigger nations. Take England’s recent qualification record as an example- since Steve McClaren’s Brolly incident at Wembley, England have played 5 qualification campaigns winning all their groups and have rarely looked in danger of missing out. In that time Slaven Bilic’s Croatia and Switzerland represent the best teams England have faced. Typically 7 of the 9 qualifying groups are shoe-ins for the top seeds.

England in particular have suffered cruising from easy qualifying groups and then struggling to win a game in tournament football- the Nations League may well involve a scenario like England needing to face Spain at the The Bernabeu needing a draw to qualify for the finals- it’s the sort of experience that should lead to a more battle hardened side. It will also see a potential grudge match against Croatia with the World Cup semi final and Luka Modric’s post match comments still fresh in everyones minds.

England-v-Spain-International-Friendly

The other benefits will be felt by the smallest footballing nations of Europe. Historically the minnow nations have been drawn in qualifying against vastly superior opposition with the sole aim of keeping the score down. Instead of being cannon fodder the likes of Malta and Luxembourg can play similar level teams in competitive games with promotion up the European Ladder for the victors.

The Draw

As you can see below the draw for this tournament has thrown up some intriguing ties with France, Germany & Holland making up a Group of Death and England facing tricky encounters with Spain & Croatia. Further down the groups we get Wales renewing their rivalry with Ireland and Scotland visiting far-flung Israel & Albania.

Critics have said there is no need for a third international tournament but why not? We have 3 domestic tournaments in club football and would having an International equivalent of the League Cup be such a bad thing?

With Sky Sports securing the TV rights for the one thing they’ve never had a chance to promote- an international tournament, there should be plenty of attention placed on the Nations League. We’ll find out next season if the Nations League will work, but it should be more fun than friendlies and dour qualifiers and like Monday Night Football and TV’s in pubs- let’s give it a chance.

League A
Group one               Group two              Group three                  Group four
Netherlands             Iceland                     Poland                             Croatia
France                       Switzerland             Italy                                 England
Germany                   Belgium                   Portugal                          Spain

League B
Group one                Group two             Group three                 Group four
Czech Rep                  Turkey                    Northern Ireland          Denmark
Ukraine                      Sweden                   Bosnia Herz.                  Rep. Ireland
Slovakia                     Russia                      Austria                           Wales

League C
Group one                Group two            Group three                 Group four
Israel                          Estonia                   Cyprus                            Lithuania
Albania                      Finland                   Bulgaria                         Montenegro
Scotland                    Greece                     Norway                          Serbia
Hungary                   Slovenia                   Romania

League D
Group one                Group two           Group three                 Group four
Andorra                     San Marino           Kosovo                           Gibraltar
Kazakhstan               Moldova                Malta                              Liechtenstein
Latvia                         Luxembourg        Faroe Islands                Armenia
Georgia                      Belarus                  Azerbaijan                    Macedonia

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