How the Nations League could have revolutionised Euro qualifying

England Flag In Stadium

There is a lot of scepticism about this competition, but the real problem is the current qualifying system for the European Championship.

One is already used to the fact that UEFA comes up, every few weeks, with some new revolutionary ideas which afterwards often receive some criticism from players, teams and fans.

The same thing happened last Thursday, when the member countries decided to bring in the Nations League in 2018. Immediately there were the usual critical voices in the public which said that UEFA is just interested in commercialising football even more.

In fact that is exactly why this organisation exists; to help the clubs and national associations to earn more money through the central marketing of the UEFA. There are plenty of reasons why one could criticise UEFA but this is not one of them.

So is the Nations League a good idea? And how exactly does the new competition work?

Instead of friendly matches, the 54 European national teams will be divided into four different divisions according to their capacity, so that each country only plays teams of a similar level. The four division winners will receive a starting place in the next European Championship.

The four best teams of the highest divisions will also play an extra tournament to crown the Nations League champions.

Additional sporting seriousness is supposed to be achieved through a relegation system which would theoretically allow teams like San Marino or Luxemburg to play in the highest division after three promotions, or countries like England and Germany to play in the lowest division after three relegations.

So far so complicated. Of course there is an argument that European football does not need a new tournament, and that the Nations League would decrease the importance of the already existing European Championship. However, few are likely to complain if this new tournament replaced the current qualifying system for the European Championship.

The real problem is not the un-attractiveness of the friendly matches, but that the qualifying system for the Euros has become totally uninteresting because of the increased number of participants. Now it is far easier to qualify for this big tournament and that makes it, especially for the bigger teams, a lot more boring.

England for example will play from September onwwards in their group against Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, San Marino and Lithuania. Even if they ultimately come third in their group, they would still have the chance to qualify through two playoff matches against another team from the third position of another group.

If you would take instead of that the concept of the Nations League and divide the 54 participating countries in equal strong groups of six, then England could compete with similar strong teams like Spain, Germany or the Netherlands.

One could define, for example, that in the highest three groups of six the best four teams would qualify for the European Championship, in the following three groups only the best three of each group, and in the lowest three groups only the best team of each group. Then you would have a lot of exciting and close qualifying matches because all the teams playing each other would be on a similar level.

Apart from that, the character of the Euros would change by having some exotic and smaller participating countries; teams from San Marino, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar and the like would also play for one starting place at the actual tournament.

As a result there would be more interest in the competition from the smaller European countries and some of them would probably have a real football boom if they managed to qualify.

Unfortunately the actual concept of the Nations League wants to replace the friendly matches with this new tournament and not the alread- existing qualifying groups for the European Championship.

As long as it stays like that UEFA deserve some criticism, but more because of the boring qualifying rules for the European Championship than for the supposedly more interesting matches in the Nations League.

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