Pitchside

Nations League gimmick won’t solve the problems with internationals

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In an attempt to spruce up the much-maligned spectacle of international friendlies, UEFA have agreed to the introduction of a "Nations League" tournament to become the third major tournament for European countries behind the World Cup finals and European Championship.

The competition is due to start in September 2018, and will spawn four qualifying places for the Euro 2020 finals.

UEFA's 54 member associations have agreed to the proposal.

UEFA continues to be fuzzy about the finer details of the 'tournament' but there will be four leagues - divided into four smaller competitions - each league will see a final four between the winners of the four smaller competitions or sub-division.

Sound as clear as mud? It does to us. But to add to what sounds like a lot of hard work, there will be promotion and relegation between the 'larger leagues'. Stick with us because the plot thickens.

The "Nations League" will replace international friendly fixtures between September and November 2018 with pool matches contested, and the "final four" competition from each division to be played in 2019.

The thought process behind the "Nations League" is to make international football more friendly for the spectators, and give a competitive elements to friendlies that some players and fans couldn't care less about.

"Twenty teams will advance from the qualifying competition to the Euro 2020 finals - which are being played in 13 cities around Europe," general secretary Gianni Infantino told delegates at the UEFA Congress in Kazakhstan on Thursday.

"That leaves four extra slots to be filled and they will come from four teams from the Nations League who have not otherwise qualified."

The idea is to make the finals more accessible to smaller countries, but it is difficult to escape from the conclusion outside the World Cup and European finals, the international game continues to limp some way behind the club format.

UEFA said in a statement: "The Nations League and the Euro qualifiers will be linked, with the new competition allowing an extra chance to qualify for Euro final tournaments.

"The competition and proposed amended qualifying formats for the European qualifiers, starting with Euro 2020, came after a thorough consultation process with UEFA's member associations, which began in 2011.

"Prior to Euro 2020, each division will be sub-divided into four pools of three or four teams, so each team plays four to six matches between September and November 2018.

"The final four competition, involving the four pool group-winners of group A, will start in 2019, whereas play-offs for the Euros will then take place in March 2020.

"National teams will thus either be competing to become Nations League champions, or be fighting for promotion and to avoid relegation in their groups, as well as to qualify for Euro play-offs.

"With UEFA having been requested by the member associations to investigate the future of national team football within the framework of the approved international match calendar, the key driver of the UEFA Nations League is sporting integrity as member associations, coaches, players and supporters increasingly feel that friendly internationals are not providing adequate sporting competition.

"In addition, the competition will help UEFA realise its stated goal of improving the quality and standing of national team football while maintaining the balance between club and international football."

Some supporters of clubs do not even care for their countries. How many players play at the weekend, but end up calling off injured for an international friendly?

If countries can't get their best players turning up for these matches, how can they expect fans to really have a strong passion for the spectacle?

UEFA are also hoping that two places at the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals can be offered through the competition, subject to approval from the game's governing body.

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