by Nick Butler
March 27, 2014 (ISN) – A “League of Nations” competition replacing most international friendlies has been unanimously adopted by the 54 member associations at the UEFA Congress in Astana, Kazakhstan.
The tournament, intended as a third major competition for European countries, will be launched from 2018 and will consist of promotion and relegation between four divisions each containing four pools.
It comes after a detailed consultation process with UEFA’s member associations, which began in 2011.
The proposed plan, which is yet to be finalised, is for the tournament to be split over two years with the semi-finals and finals to be held at neutral venues in 2019, from which four qualifying positions will be secured for the European Championships the following year.
“We accept and respect that all UEFA member associations have agreed to create a new competition”, said Wolfgang Niersbach, chairman of the National Teams Competition Committee.
“This is a big step for national teams in Europe and we hope that fans will support the new format.”
“Twenty teams will advance from the qualifying competition to the Euro 2020 finals, which are being played in 13 cities around Europe”, UEFA secretary general Gianni Infantino told delegates in Astana.
“That leaves four extra slots to be filled and they will come from four teams from the Nations League who have not otherwise qualified.”
It is thought that the four divisions will be determined by world rankings, meaning that the top division would contain the likes of Spain, Germany, Italy and England.
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, it was explained at the meeting.
This comes after member associations, coaches, players and supporters increasingly feel that friendly internationals are not providing adequate sporting competition.
It is also hoped that the added competition will help improve the quality and standing of national team football, but without losing the balance between club and international football.
But it will also not mean the complete end of international friendlies, with opportunities remaining for smaller countries to arrange high-profile fixtures with bigger European teams and for nations to play friendlies against national sides from outside Europe.
But the League of Nations, which shares a name with the ill-fated political forerunner of the United Nations which failed to contain the rise of Fascism in the inter-war period, has already been criticised by Fifpro, the World Footballers’ Association.
They are concerned about the added strain it will place on players.
“It should be clear that there is a difference in a friendly match and a competitive match,” said director of player services Tijs Tummers.
“The Nations League will be another prestigious competition.
“As a consequence, that implies an increase in the workload for the group of top players.”