Nations League Breathes New Life into Game

By Peters, Jerrad | Winnipeg Free Press, September 8, 2018 | Go to article overview

Nations League Breathes New Life into Game


Peters, Jerrad, Winnipeg Free Press


Soccer’s mid-season international dates have rarely been reason for excitement. Sure, the World Cup playoffs are good entertainment, but they only happen every fourth November, and it’s not all that often that qualification matches, never mind friendlies, generate much in the way of either interest or adventure.

In all honesty, many fans would simply prefer their club schedules continue uninterrupted than pause for a week or more when the Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga and La Liga are just starting to get interesting.

Who wants Germany-San Marino (with all due respect) when they can have Liverpool-Manchester City?

Fair enough. But what about England-Spain, France-Netherlands and Portugal-Italy? Those three matches — marquee fixtures all — will be played between now and Monday, and each will mean something above and beyond the values of squad preparation, fitness and tactical experimentation.

The Nations League format, like a breath of fresh autumn air, is already revitalizing the formerly tedious program of international friendlies. It all began Thursday with Kazakhstan-Georgia (yes, Kazakhstan-Georgia), and Georgia’s 2-0 triumph in Astana took the Crusaders temporarily atop Group 1 of Nations League D and into a promotion place.

Promotion to what? Right, so this may need unpacking.

Europe’s Nations League includes all 55 member nations, which are divided into four leagues — to start with, according to coefficient. Georgia, by way of example, are in the lowest of the four: League D. Each league is comprised of four divisions, the participants of which play one another home and away.

England and Spain, not surprisingly, are in League A, clustered into Group 4 with Croatia. One of those three, following the home-and-away schedule that will conclude in November, will be relegated to League B. In June, the League A group winners will contest a quick playoff to determine the Nations League champion. And, voila! Friendly matches suddenly mean something, and are fun, to boot!

There is also a route from the Nations League to the quadrennial European Championship, which adds even more significance to the tournament. And none of this has done away with traditional qualification campaigns — the Euro 2020 version of which will kick off in March. While it’s always enjoyable to watch the true heavyweights of European soccer duke it out, it’s also important to give the region’s lower-ranked contestants a chance in the ring, and Euro and World Cup qualifying will ensure that continues.

Other than the rather convoluted process that ties the Nations League to the European Championship — and one has to be really, really cynical to venture down that rabbit trail — this format is a winner, which is why it’s no wonder CONCACAF has launched a version of its own. …

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