Football

Uefa Nations League gets the thumbs-up

National coaches Loew, Southgate and Santos praise new four-tier competition

Germany will face old rivals France and Holland after the trio were drawn together in the same three-team group for the inaugural Uefa Nations League, the latest addition to the football calendar, yesterday.

The trio will feature in Group One of League A, the top division of the four-tier tournament that Uefa has introduced to replace international friendlies and which will run alongside the traditional European championship qualifiers.

It was an early boost for the competition which critics say is too complex, adds to a packed calendar and, because it provides an extra path to tournaments such as Euro 2020, makes it too easy for the top teams to qualify, reported Reuters.

Uefa, concerned that international football is losing popularity to the club game, argues that the league will provide the top nations with more competitive matches against one another.

The Nations League features all 55 of Europe's national teams divided into four divisions - Leagues A to D - that are themselves split into four groups (see right), to be played between September and November.

In League A, the winners of each group qualify for the semi-finals, which will be played in June 2019, followed by the final.

The four last-placed teams are relegated to League B.

In the other leagues, the four group winners are promoted and last team in each group goes down. Each league also has one place at Euro 2020, offering a back door for teams who do not get in through the qualifiers.

This ensures that a fourth-tier side - such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, Faroe Islands or Malta - will reach Euro 2020.

Germany coach Joachim Loew said the new competition was "really interesting".

He told the Uefa website: "I like the idea of fewer friendlies and more competitive matches. Now we have a competition in which you can win something or you can get relegated."

Portugal coach Fernando Santos told the Uefa website: "One of the positives with this competition is more games between teams of a similar standard.

"Some countries knew they will always struggle to get to a World Cup or a Euro, and they will now have another reason to invest in youth development."

England manager Gareth Southgate, whose side are drawn with Spain and Croatia in League A's Group Four, also likes the idea of playing against top opposition.

CRITERIA FULFILLED

He told the Uefa website: "The whole concept of this tournament is that you play high-quality matches and competitive matches, so that criteria is fulfilled with the group that we're in."

Slovak Football Association president Jan Kovacik, however, would have preferred to pick his own opponents. He told the Uefa website: "I would have liked to play Sweden, but you cannot choose these things.

"On the other hand, the two games against the Czechs can be a celebration for what would have been the 100th anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia (in October 1918)."

Besides the tasty match between the Czechs and Slovaks, League B also sees Ryan Giggs' Wales take on Ireland, whose assistant manager is Roy Keane.

Football