For many years, both clubs and fans have complained about international friendly fixtures. Those matches that players try to avoid. Filler games where clubs try their utmost to argue that their star player cannot leave because their pet gerbil has glandular fever. In response, UEFA have looked to find away to keep the international calendar ticking – while looking to make otherwise meaningless matches more meaningful.
The answer is the first edition of the UEFA Nations League, which can be best described as a tournament within a tournament. Rather than the usual two-season round of qualifying matches for Euro 2020 after this summer’s FIFA World Cup with friendly fixtures filling the gaps, the process will start with the 2019 Nations League – an innovative format that pits equally-ranked teams together in four divisions.
Essentially, the 55 UEFA members have been divided into four divisions based on their coefficient scores. These divisions have been divided further, into four round-robin groups of three or four teams.
There will be a system of promotion and relegation between the four divisions. It all sounds simple enough. Following the completion of the 2019 Nations Cup, a second qualifying play-off stage will follow to complete the 24-team lineup for the hostless 60th anniversary tournament.
The system is more than a little convoluted, and has attracted a number of critics. Some have argued that the complicated qualification process can be manipulated. Meanwhile, others have claimed that weaker teams could end up qualifying for the final competition.
The draw for the 2019 UEFA Nations Cup was made in the Swiss city of Lausanne on 24th January 2018. Germany, ranked number one, was in the top division alongside Belgium, Croatia, England, France, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland. These twelve teams were then divided into three pots:
Pot 1: Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Spain
Pot 2: France, England, Switzerland, Italy
Pot 3: Poland, Iceland, Croatia, Netherlands
For Joachim Löw and the Mannschaft, the resulting draw was an interesting one. With Germany placed in Group A1, France were first out of Pot 2, followed by the Netherlands from Pot 3.
After getting the show on the road in early September with the home match against France, mid-October sees a testing double-header against both Les Bleus and the Netherlands. The short group programme then concludes in November with the closing home fixture against the Oranje.
06.09.2018 v France (H)
13.10.2018 v Netherlands (A)
16.10.2018 v France (A)
19.11.2017 v Netherlands (H)
More details about the tournament, as well as the other divisions and groups, can be found on the official UEFA Nations League site.