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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 23 May, 2018

So what's the craic with the new Nations League tournament?

Almost everything you need to know about UEFA’s new international football initiative.

Michel Platini and UEFA are striving to take meaningless friendlies off the international football calendar.
Michel Platini and UEFA are striving to take meaningless friendlies off the international football calendar.
Image: Lionel Lionel Cironneau/AP/Press Association Images

Well then, what is the Nations League?

IN SHORT IT’S a new initiative announced by UEFA that will replace most meaningless international friendlies and give weaker countries the opportunity to qualify for the European Championships.

Hang on, I thought there were no meaningless friendlies?

Well, that’s what you’re supposed to say anyway. They give you a chance to blood new players and, if the opposition is high-profile enough, line your pockets with lots and lots of Euro from a full house.

That said, you could use this new tournament to do the same.

Fair enough but how will it work?

There’s nothing set in stone just yet but what we know right now is that the first Nations League is due to start in 2018 and the plan is to have four divisions, which will be further sub-divided into four pools of three or four teams.

The teams in each pool will play each other home and away between September and December 2018 with the group winners either qualifying for the final four competitions or gaining promotion. The bottom side in each pool will be relegated.

France Soccer Euro 2016 Qualifying Draw UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino is happy with the new tournament. Source: Lionel Cironneau/AP/Press Association Images

Okay, that seems to make more sense than we usually expect from UEFA but how does it impact Euro 2020 qualification?

Not so fast. This is where it gets a little confusing. After the league stage is over, European football reverts to the usual European Qualification tournament we’ve come to expect.

These games will be played between February and November 2019 and see 20 teams qualifying for Euro 2020.

But shouldn’t there be 24 teams in that tournament?

You’re right, and that’s where the Nations League results come in. In March 2020, the top four teams in each division — who haven’t already qualified automatically — will playoff to become that division’s representative at Euro 2020.

And what’s the benefit of that?

Well not only does it give teams a second chance at qualifying for Euro 2020 but it guarantees that some of Europe’s weaker nations — those in division four like San Marino and the Faroe Islands — will have a representative at the European Championships. UEFA — and those who cheer on the underdog — see this as a good thing.

Won’t it mean extra games for players though? I can’t see club managers being too happy with that?

Surprisingly enough most leagues have given a cautious welcome to it as the games will take place on dates already penciled in for international football. It does rid the calendar of glamour friendlies like Ireland v Oman but I think we can all live with that.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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