Amidst the chaos of a transfer window, the rapidly approaching new season and players falling prey to COVID-19, it is almost easy to forget that a football tournament involving national teams is about to start next week.
No one would blame you if you forget about the UEFA Nations League. Very few other than a few UEFA officials felt that the football calendar needed another tournament for national teams. The first edition took place last year, it was largely forgettable and Portugal beat the Netherlands in the final.
The second edition is set to start next week and squads have been announced by the participating national teams. We are not sure whether it has added colour to the drab nature of international football but it is what it is and the fixtures are upon us.
UEFA Nations League format and groups
The UEFA Nations League is mainly divided into three phases – league, finals and relegation play-offs. The 55 participating teams have been divided into four leagues. The only exception being the League D, which has only two groups with one compromising of only three teams.
Group 1: Netherlands, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Poland
Group 2: England, Belgium, Denmark, Iceland
Group 3: Portugal, France, Sweden, Croatia
Group 4: Switzerland, Spain, Ukraine, Germany
Group 1: Austria, Norway, Northern Ireland, Romania
Group 2: Czech Republic, Scotland, Slovakia, Israel
Group 3: Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Hungary
Group 4: Wales, Finland, Republic of Ireland, Bulgaria
Group 1: Montenegro, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Azerbaijan
Group 2: Georgia, North Macedonia, Estonia, Armenia
Group 3: Greece, Kosovo, Slovenia, Moldova
Group 4: Albania, Belarus, Lithuania, Kazakhstan
Group 1: Faroe Islands, Latvia, Andorra, Malta
Group 2: Gibraltar, Liechtenstein, San Marino
Teams play each other home and away with four teams from League A qualifying for the UEFA Nations League Finals round in September 2021, which features two semi-finals, a third-place match and the final.
The group winners in Leagues B, C and D gain promotion and teams finishing at the bottom of the groups in Leagues A and B will be relegated.
As League C has four groups while League D has only two, the two League C teams to be relegated will be determined by two-legged play-off ties in March 2022.
If a team due to participate in the play-offs qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup play-offs, the League C teams ranked 47th and 48th in the overall UEFA Nations League rankings will suffer relegation.
What has World Cup qualification got to do with any of this?
To raise the stakes in the tournament, UEFA have added the World Cup qualification angle to it.
Initially, the World Cup qualification remains straightforward with 10 group winners advancing directly to the finals in Qatar. The format of the playoffs has changed and will now contain two knockout rounds from which three teams will qualify.
It will involve the ten group runners-up plus the best two UEFA Nations League group winners (based on their overall UEFA Nations League rankings) who did not directly qualify or reach the play-offs.
UEFA Nations League schedule
The group stage matches of the 2020-21 UEFA Nations League will be played on the following dates: 3/4/5 and 6/7/8 September; 10/11 and 13/14 October; 14/15 and 17/18 November 2020.
Is UEFA Nations League relevant?
International football has been struggling for relevance amidst the glitz and glory of club competitions. The World Cup and the European Championship still attract major interest but the drab nature of international friendlies in the middle of football seasons has irked many fans.
Even the qualifiers for the World Cup and European Championship have been becoming less interesting and it only gathers heat towards the end. The UEFA Nations League was introduced to add interest to international football. But did the fans demand an international tournament running through the middle of the football season?
Efforts to make international football more interesting are always welcome. But this seems like UEFA trying to push a tournament down everyone’s throat.
Do we care? Cristiano Ronaldo looked happy lifting the trophy last year.