The first official draw for the UEFA Nations League took place in Lausanne, Switzerland yesterday. If you’re asking yourself “what in the world is the UEFA Nations League,” worry not, we’ll explain it all right here.
What is it?
The UEFA Nations League is a tournament to be played every two years comprised of the 55 nation members of UEFA. The 55 countries are split up into four leagues (A-D), with each league split up into four groups. Teams were ranked based on their UEFA coefficient. Groups A and B consist of 12 teams, Group C is made up of 15 countries, and Group D has 16 teams.
Each group member will play each other twice (a home and away leg) between the months of September and November of 2018. In league A, the winner of each group will then compete against each other in a playoff-style format consisting of two semi finals, a third place match, and final in June of 2019 to crown the first UEFA Nations League champion.
The group winners of leagues B through D will each be promoted to the next highest tier, whilst the group losers of leagues A through C will be relegated down a tier. Additionally, a four team playoff will take place in March of 2020 in each league consisting of the highest ranked, not yet qualified for Euro 2020 teams of each league, with the winner of each of these four playoffs receiving a qualification spot for Euro 2020.
Bayern will, for the most part, be represented in league A, as Germany (Manuel Neuer, Joshua Kimmich, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Niklas Süle, Sebastian Rudy, Thomas Muller, Sandro Wagner), France (Kingsley Coman, Corentin Tolisso), Spain (Javi Martinez, Thiago Alcantara, Juan Bernat), Poland (Robert Lewandowski), and Portugal (Renato Sanches) are all amongst the top 12 teams that made it into the top league. Only David Alaba, and potentially Marco Friedl (a U-23 player, for now) will play in group B, representing Austria.
Of all the nations that are represented by Bayern players, Germany and France - two world cup favorites - have arguably the most difficult group, as they were both drawn into group A along with the no-longer-scary Netherlands.
The Spanish contingent of Bayern players also don’t have it easy, as they’ll be taking on England and Croatia in group D, whilst Robert Lewandowski (Poland) will go to battle against Renato Sanches (Portugal) and the Bayern-less Italy in group C. Group B, the easiest of league A, consists of Belgium, Switzerland and Iceland.
Meanwhile, Austria (David Alaba, Marco Friedl) will be the favorites in group 3 of league B, having drawn Bosnia-Herzegovina and the always challenging Northern Ireland.
The full 55 team draw can be seen here.
Personally, I like the concept of the Nations League. It allows for smaller countries who usually only have an outside chance of qualifying for the Euro to make some noise, create some buzz and excitement, and, potentially, give their country a soccer experience they aren’t accustomed to having.
The tournament also reduces the overall need of meaningless friendlies that are played each year and will give players additional motivation they may otherwise have been lacking during those meaningless friendlies. Games will also be more competitive, especially in the lower leagues, as teams will be able to face off against opponents more suited to their overall skill level.
On the other hand, international friendlies have, in the past, been used for squad rotation and experimentation under Jogi Löw, and reducing those opportunities may hamper Germany’s ability to integrate and give opportunities to young, up and coming players ready to prove themselves in the senior squad. If last summers confederations cup is any indicator, Löw won’t be afraid to throw youth out there, though it remains to be seen what kind of value Die Mannschaft will place on success in the Nations League.
Also, should Germany (or any other country with Bayern players, for that matter) manage to win their group, they’ll have two more games to play in June after the club season has already ended. This seems both unnecessary and inconvenient, as it’ll mean a fourth consecutive summer of international play for some members of the squad, as well as a shortened summer break or delayed return to the squad in a summer during which a new manager may take over at Bayern, should Jupp Heynckes stay on board for another season, though that is looking less and less likely as time goes on.
Match day one of the tournament is set to kick off with nine games on September 6th, including Germany playing hosts to France in a game that could set an early tone for group A1.
The complete group stage schedule can be seen here.