UEFA started a tournament called the UEFA Nations League which kicked off this weekend and will largely replace meaningless friendless amongst European nations. The Nations League is divided into 4 different overall leagues, A, B, C and D. League A consisting of the highest level teams, and D consisting of the weakest European teams.
Each of the leagues – A, B, C and D consists of groups of 3 or 4 teams who play each other home and away. Relegation and promotion between the leagues happen, so in theory, a team can drop from A to D, or rise from D to A if they win or lose their groups.
According to the blurb, associations had been complaining for years that friendlies have become meaningless, or in the case of smaller footballing nations, it’s difficult to even get any friendly at all as no one sees the benefit of arranging a friendly against Andorra for example.
It will be a massive benefit to the smaller nations to play each other, I heard something said on a podcast I listened to that the smaller nations actually very rarely play against each other. The reason for this is because they’re either in the bottom seed of the qualifying groups getting spanked every game, or no one is willing to play them in a friendly because the benefit isn’t there to do so. So yesterday when Luxembourg played Moldova and won 4-0, it is likely to have been the first or one of the very few times that Luxembourg has to face Moldova in a competitive fixture and it has to be the first time I have ever seen Luxembourg win 4-0 in a competitive match.
So not only does the nation's league get rid of meaningless friendlies, but it also benefits the European nations by allowing them to play competitive fixtures against a well-matched opponent instead of playing some pointless exhibition game against Brazil. One other major benefit of the major league is that the winners of each league A, B, C, or D will have a chance to enter the European Championships.
For the first time ever, we will see some of the lowest ranked nations in the European Championships, comments I have read on the internet and heard on TV or on podcasts have had a mixed reaction to this. The usual was to be seen and heard that the rubbish teams shouldn’t be let in and then others saying what I think, that is great the smaller nations have a chance to qualify.
So to qualify for the European Championships through the Nations League, you first have to win your group, then defeat the other group winners over two playoff games then you will get a place at the Euros.
UEFA Nations league could see a snowball effect around the world
I believe that once other associations see how successful the Nations League is, then they will all start their own similar Nations League idea. I believe the North American region has already decided to do this, and have the plans set up for it to rock and roll.
When Africa and Asia start struggling to arrange friendlies with other countries because European, North / Central American and Caribbean teams are all playing in their own Nations League, then it is likely that other parts of the world will follow suit.
A Nations League would be brilliant for the development of Asian Football
The AFC should definitely implement a Nations League, and do it pretty soon. It should at least be in the designing stage of how the competition will function. The gap between the best and worst teams in Asia is huge and something like this would give everyone a chance to play often.
There would also be the possibility of some of the smaller teams to get promoted into higher groups where they would have a chance of playing against some of the biggest teams in Asia. If someone like Bhutan somehow became one of the best sides in Asia and defeated all comers, rising to group A. Then they would have the chance of facing Japan, Iran, South Korea, Australia and that would be massive for them. Yes, it is unrealistic someone like Bhutan would rise to the top level, but it’s less unrealistic if you think it could be Vietnam, Thailand or India.
Another thing Asian football teams seem to struggle with is organizing friendlies, yes if you’re Japan, South Korea, China, Australia you have no problem. Macau, Guam, East Timor, Philippines, Myanmar, Taiwan, on the other hand, find it a lot more difficult to arrange friendlies. Without regular friendlies then how does the country improve its national side, only so much can be done through training. Playing competitive games would allow them to learn more than solely focusing on training.
As ever when organizing anything for the Asian continent logistics come into play
So anything that is organized as an Asian competition can become problematic mainly due to the size of Asia. Some of the travel times between countries playing each other in Asian Cup qualifying was insane. For example, Taiwan had to travel to Turkmenistan, which would have taken them forever. Guam even pulled out of Asian Cup qualifying because they couldn’t cover the costs of playing so many games in West Asia.
With that in mind, the AFC should do something that UEFA did in the draw, where they limited the amount of travel time and winter venues between participants. For example, if you drew Kazakhstan in your group, you could then not have Azerbaijan. The same concept applied to play in a winter venue, which I can only assume was to make sure no fixtures got delayed. So if you drew Norway in your group, you then couldn’t be drawn against Finland or Estonia. The AFC could use this idea to try and make sure teams are not travelling from the Far East of Asia to the far West of Asia and vice versa.
Now the Nations League is a thing, Asia needs it
Now the Nations League is a thing, I believe it will be a huge success. I also believe Asia needs to implement their own version if they’re serious about their teams improving, giving teams a chance to play more games, and allowing the smaller teams a chance to have a backdoor entry into the Asian Cup would improve interest and maybe even generate more sponsorship.
The elephant in the room is always the same in Asia, logistical planning of getting from East to West, and West to East can be a major issue that doesn’t really need to be thought about as much in Europe. Taiwan to Australia is roughly 9 hours travel time or so.
Regardless of the logistical issues, Asia needs the Nations League because every country playing in it will benefit greatly from it. So come on AFC get on it and sort it out!