European soccer’s governing body Uefa has rubber-stamped a wide-ranging format change to the international calendar of friendly games, which will see the launch of the Uefa Nations League.
A four-point resolution was unanimously adopted by Uefa’s 54 member associations in the Kazakh city of Astana, where Uefa is staging its congress, on Thursday.
The new format, precise details of which are still to be ironed out, will begin in 2018. The Uefa Nations League and the European Championship qualifiers will be linked, with the Nations League set to offer additional opportunities to qualify for the European Championships.
Broadly, the 54 Uefa nations will be split into four large groups based on coefficient rankings. Each group will then be divided into pools of three or four teams. Uefa said the plan is for each team to play between four and six matches between September and November 2018.
A final four competition, featuring the pool winners of the top group, will be played in 2018, with the traditional qualifying play-offs for Euro 2020 taking place in March 2020, just weeks before the finals tournament begins.
A Uefa statement added: ‘National teams will thus either be competing to become Uefa Nations League champions or be fighting for promotion and to avoid relegation in their groups, as well as to qualify for the Euro play-offs.’
The statement continued: ‘The competition will establish the Uefa Nations League champions every odd year while also allowing all nations to play competitively at their level.’
The current qualification format for the European Championship will remain largely unchanged, although the qualifiers will now begin in the March following a major tournament, rather than September as is currently the case. Four teams will qualify for each final tournament through the Uefa Nations League.
The new competition will be marketed centrally, following the model Uefa has introduced for European and World Cup qualifiers.
Although many questions about the new format remained unanswered in Uefa’s announcement, the organisation has been consulting with stakeholders and working on the plan since 2011. In October last year, Uefa’s marketing director Guy-Laurent Epstein told SportsPro that the main driver behind the changes were the organisation’s 54 members. “What has been discussed with the federation is what to do with the friendly dates,” Epstein said.
“We centralised all the qualifying matches and I think it has been successful so far – I think it’s very good for the competition and for the promotion of the qualifying matches – but it also means that the national associations are left with their friendlies in hand and in order to give them some more value, the question is: can we make them more meaningful?
“It sounds reasonable to believe that if you make them more meaningful they would have more value, and the question is: how do you do that? It’s not simple. So I think that’s the thinking process to have with the federations. There’ve been some requests from them to look into that. I don’t know which way it will go but there is a thought about it because it might be appropriate to make them more meaningful.”
The Nations League is the second new national team format announced by Uefa in little over a year, following its decision to stage Euro 2020 in up to 13 cities across Europe due to a shortage of single-nation bidders.
Euro 2016, qualifying for which begins in September, will be staged in France and will feature 24 teams instead of the 16 which have competed in every European Championship since 1996.