All you need to know about the 2018/19 UEFA Nations League

The draw for the maiden UEFA Nations League will take place in January after European football's governing body confirmed plans for the new tournament.

The new UEFA Nations League tournament is designed to limit the number of meaningless friendly matches currently played by international teams. Picture: Michael Gillen
The new UEFA Nations League tournament is designed to limit the number of meaningless friendly matches currently played by international teams. Picture: Michael Gillen

The competition will involve 55 countries and will run alongside qualifying for the European Championship in 2020. Here’s all you need to know about UEFA’s brand new tournament.

Why do we need a new tournament?

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Simply put, UEFA and its 55 members (which includes Kosovo and Gibraltar) are aiming to improve the quality of national team football. Several member associations, coaches, and players have voiced their belief that friendly matches are not helping teams to progress. The idea for a Nations League was first mooted in 2011, before being adopted in March 2014. The main aim of the Nations League tournament is to give teams more competitive matches.

So no more meaningless friendlies?

Not quite. There will undoubtedly be fewer friendly matches but there were still be space in the footballing calendar for friendly matches to take place, primarily as warm-up matches for major tournaments.

UEFA is understood to be keen on giving its 55 member associations the chance to test themselves against teams from other confederations.

What’s the format of the new tournament?

In a word, confusing. The new tournament will involve the 55 European national teams, which will be divided into four leagues, according to their UEFA ranking.

So the highest ranked teams will be in League A and the lowest in League D. The teams will be split up with 12 in League A and League B, 15 in League C and 16 in League D.

Leagues A and B will be made up of four groups of three teams.

League C will be made up of three groups of four teams and one group of three teams.

League D will be formed of four groups containing four teams each.

Home and away matches will be played between September and November 2018. The number of games teams will play depends on the size of their respective group (i.e. four or six).

The four group winners from League A qualify for the UEFA Nations League Finals, to be held in June 2019 and comprising two semi-finals, a third-place play-off match and the final itself.

A designated host country will be named by UEFA in December 2018 from the finalist teams.

The group winners from Leagues B, C and D will be promoted, and those who finish bottom of the groups in Leagues A, B and C will be relegated.

The UEFA Nations League rankings will then decide the make-up of the draw pots for the European Qualifiers while the Nations League will also provide teams with another entry route into the European Championship finals, with four sides able to qualify through a play-off phase held in March 2020.

The draw for the league phase will take place on 24 January 2018 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

So how does this affect qualification for Euro 2020?

The new tournament will make Euro 2020 qualifying more ‘streamlined’, according to UEFA. Euro 2020 qualifiers will begin in March 2019, three months before the Nations League Finals.

Two matchdays are scheduled for March, June, September, October and November.

Altogether there are ten groups, made up of five groups of five teams, and five groups of six teams. All teams involved will play over the ten matchdays, with the winner and runner-up in each of the ten groups qualifying automatically for Euro 2020. The remaining four places are held for the winners of the play-offs (played in March 2020), where the 16 group winners of the Nations League will be in contention.

The draw for Euro 2020 qualifying will be made after the Nations League is completed, allowing the four Nations League finals teams to be drawn into groups of five teams.

One of the ideas behind the Nations League is to give middle-ranked nations, or smaller countries, an extra route into Euro 2020.

But what if a group winner has already qualified?

If a group winner has already qualified through the European Qualifiers then their spot will pass to the next best-ranked team in that league. If that league does not have four teams to compete, then the remaining slots will be allocated to teams from another league based, again, on overall Nations League rankings.

Each league has a path of its own, featuring two single-leg semi-finals and one single-leg final, with the outright winner qualifying for Euro 2020.

How do the Nations League rankings work?

In each of the leagues A, B, C and D, overall ranking is based on position in the group followed by points, goal difference, goals scored, away goals scored, wins, away wins, disciplinary points and co-efficient ranking.

According to the most recent National Team Coefficients ranking, published after the last round of World Cup qualifiers, Scotland are in 29th, behind Serbia in 28th and the Czech Republic in 30th.

If the Nations League was drawn on current rankings, Scotland would be in League C.

The top five teams are Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland. England are 7th, Wales 12th, Northern Ireland 14th and the Republic of Ireland are in 22nd.

How will domestic clubs - and players - be affected?

Much the same as they are now. Nations League matches and Euro qualifiers will fit into the existing international match calendar and if anything, travel for some players will be reduced, with fewer friendlies being scheduled.

UEFA’s scheduling could even see players returning to clubs earlier than they currently do thanks to the double-header matchday set-up.

Is the new tournament good for supporters?

Probably. Fans fed up of seeing their team take part in largely meaningless friendlies will get the chance to see their country take part in more competitive games and also get a second chance to qualify for major tournaments.

It also means more national competitions - there is a World Cup or European Championship held every even year, and the Nations League will be held in odd years.