Extra chance for national teams to qualify for Euros in four-division competition
The Scottish Football Association have welcomed the added opportunity to qualify for European Championships through Uefa’s new Nations League.
Europe’s 54 football nations yesterday agreed a new competition structure which will be held on dates normally reserved for international friendlies.
Uefa members will be ranked into four divisions from autumn 2018 and each team will play two or three other nations on a home-and-away basis with the winner of each mini-league going to a climax of semi-finals and final at a neutral venue.
The four divisional champions will qualify for the European finals while the other 20 qualifiers will come from more orthodox qualification groups.
SFA chief executive Stewart Regan told Sky Sports News: “It’s a great piece of news, particularly for some of the smaller countries across Uefa.
“It will be a better use of the friendly dates, potentially greater financial rewards and, probably more importantly for some of the smaller countries, it’s an opportunity for extra play-off and qualification places for the European finals themselves.”
There will be some friendly dates kept after the Nations League is introduced and the SFA are looking to utilise their upcoming opportunities to play challenge matches in the meantime – with an Auld Enemy clash at Hampden in the pipeline.
Regan said: “We are trying to put our own fixtures together for the next couple of years and we remain focused on putting good-quality matches against as high-profile opposition as possible. We remain hopeful and are in discussions with England about a return fixture of the one we had [last August].”
European football’s governing body agreed on the Nations League at their congress in Kazakhstan. Although the exact format has yet to be finalised, four slots for the 2020 European Championship will be made available from the new competition for sides that may not have advanced through the usual qualifying route.
One feature of the new competition will be a promotion and relegation element with a four-team finals being held in odd years in a selected country.
Wolfgang Niersbach of Germany, chairman of Uefa’s national teams competition committee, said: “This is a big step for national teams in Europe and we hope that fans will support the new format.”
Uefa have spent three years studying proposals for the new competition and while some fine-tuning remains, the concept is more or less agreed.
The continent’s 54 teams will be divided into four large groups based on co-efficient rankings with countries competing to become either Nations League champions, earn promotion to a higher tier or avoid relegation to the level below.
Ahead of the Euro 2020 tournament, each of the larger groups will be divided into four pools of three or four sides with each team playing four or six fixtures between September and November 2018.
A final-four competition involving the pool winners of Group A, the top-ranked section, will start in 2019, whereas playoffs for the Euro 2020 finals will take place the following March.
The world players’ union Fifpro said it was concerned about the strain on players. “It should be clear that there is a difference between a friendly match and a competitive match,” said Fifpro director Tijs Tummers. “As we understand, the Nations League will be another prestigious competition. That implies an increase in the workload for the group of top players.”
Fifpro said that coaches often use friendly matches to give young players a first taste of international football and rest their top players. “That will change when there is more at stake,” said Tummers.
Meanwhile, Uefa president Michel Platini insists he is the only person capable of beating Sepp Blatter in an election battle for the Fifa presidency. The 58-year-old emphasised that he is yet to decide whether to stand for football’s top job next year, but said: “There is only one person who can beat Blatter.” Asked who that was he said: “Me.”
Platini has been president of Uefa since 2007. Asked if he had enough support outside of Europe, he replied: “Yes, I have many people who support me around the world. But I have not decided yet to run, I am happy being Uefa president. I will consult many people but it will be my decision in the end.”
Blatter, who has been Fifa president since 1998, has dropped increasingly strong hints that he will stand for re-election for a fifth term, but will not announce his intentions until Fifa’s annual congress in Sao Paulo just before the start of the World Cup. So far only Jerome Champagne, a former Blatter aide at Fifa, has announced his candidacy.
NATIONS LEAGUE: HOW IT WORKS
• There will be four divisions, each containing 12-14 teams based on Uefa’s coefficients. England and other top European sides will be in Division A.
• Each division will have four mini-leagues – so England would play three or four other Division A teams on a home-and-away basis between September and November 2018. The winners of each mini-league go into the division’s semi-finals and then final at a neutral venue in June 2019.
• Twenty of the 24 qualification places for Euro 2020 will be decided via the usual qualifying groups in matches played from 2019.
• The top four teams in each Nations League division will play off for the four remaining Euro 2020 qualifications places in March 2020, with one team from each division qualifying for the European Championship. If a team have already qualified, the play-off place goes to the country finishing immediately below them in that division.
• Two of Europe’s 13 qualifying places for the 2022 World Cup may also be decided via the top two divisions of the Nations League.
• TV income is likely to organised in a similar way to the Champions League, with each country being awarded half the value of its Nations League TV rights deal, and the rest shared out across the 54 nations via participation money and match bonuses.