France, Germany to launch football’s new complex competition
LONDON: World Cup champions France travel to Joachim Loew’s under-pressure Germany in an eye-catching start to the inaugural UEFA Nations League, football’s newest competition introduced to replace most international friendlies with few knowing all the details of a complex format.
The Nations League, brainchild of European football body UEFA, aims to boost interest in the autumn and spring internationals, which were seen by clubs and fans as disruptive to the domestic football season.
To be held every two years, it features all 55 of Europes national teams divided into four divisions — Leagues A to D — that are themselves split into four groups, to be played between September and November.
There is promotion and relegation between each league while the top division, which includes France and Germany, will finish with a four-team mini-tournament, to be held in June next year, to decide the Nations League champion.
Initially greeted with scepticism because of its seemingly complex format, it was given a warmer reception by coaches when the draw was made in January, with teams receiving financial bonuses as they progress in the competition.
Groups of three or four teams play home and away on the usual national-team match dates protected by FIFA. Teams in the top-two tiers League A and B, each with four groups of three nations still have dates free for friendlies against teams like Brazil and Argentina.
Lower-ranked teams are all booked up in the four-team groups of Leagues C and D.
The four group winners from League A advance to a Final Four to decide the Nations League champion
The Nations League will also award at least one place at the 2020 European Championship to one of the lowest-ranked teams on the continent.
It pushes back Euro 2020 qualifying into 2019, and affects the 10 groups to be drawn on Dec. 2 in Dublin.
Top-tier teams going to the Final Four must be in one of the five smaller groups of five teams. That clears their June schedule for the mini-tournament.
The other five Euro 2020 qualifying groups have six teams, using all the FIFA dates to play 10 games from next March through November.
The top two teams in each qualifying group automatically advance to Euro 2020. The remaining four places in the 24-team lineup will be decided in Nations League playoffs in March 2020 when each tier will have a four-team playoff bracket with the winner advancing to Euro 2020.