Inaugural UEFA Nations League re-imagines international football

Inaugural UEFA Nations League re-imagines international football

Barely a few weeks into the European domestic season and customary international break has put to a halt any early momentum gathered by clubs across leagues. Previously, the break meant a series of seemingly needless friendlies. Now, however, there’s greater importance placed on these fixtures, following the announcement of the UEFA Nations League late last year.

In a bid to revamp international football and improve its overall quality amidst a growing reputation of meaningless friendlies, UEFA and its 55-member associations incepted the UEFA Nations League, to be played every two years.

In a nutshell, the new international tournament sees European nations participate in a league format across groups, fighting for a chance to feature in the final four – a showpiece penciled in for June 2019 – to battle for the coveted Nations League champion.

Unfortunately, the international championship will affect the qualification route for Euro 2020. According to media reports, each Nations League league receives four play-off spots. Should the winner have already qualified for the Euros, the next best team yet to qualify proceeds into the play-offs… but these intricacies are for another day.

The inaugural tournament recently commenced, eliciting mixed reactions in the few games played out thus far.

Commenting on the league after their match was German coach, Joachim Low, who said, “I really like the competition…  Because we have matches on a very high level… You could also see that the fans were really behind it.” His side drew their opening match against FIFA world champions, France, 0-0.

Also giving a thumbs up was England coach, Gareth Southgate, who spoke after his side’s 2-1 loss to Spain – a match that attracted a mammoth 81,000 spectators to Wembley Stadium.

“We have got to go through those games, we have got to go through those experiences… If we were just playing qualifiers now, against a lower standard opposition on the back of the result in the summer, we might have a perception of where we are which is false.”

However, others have not taken to the league with equal zeal and seriousness.

European champions, Portugal, opted to rest their talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo, ahead of their tie against Italy. Furthermore, of the 64,000 seater Estadio da Luz, only 45,000 tickets were sold.

According to Portuguese coach, Fernando Santos, when quizzed f his side were experiencing any nerves ahead of the tie, he said, “We have very experienced players, so there isn’t that anxiety. Maybe if it was a World Cup, or European qualifying, there would be.”

Beyond coaches, players too have weighed in their opinion on the tournament.

Breakout England star, Harry Maguire, admitted to the competition being puzzling.

“It is confusing but we are trying to get our heads round it. As players you just try to win every game – and we’ll see where that takes us.”

Meanwhile, social media has been impregnated by a plethora of reactions, adding to the continued discussions on the league’s merits and demerits.

Irrespective of the reactions and delayed concerns, the UEFA Nations League is well underway and European football will only learn of its overall effectiveness and appeal towards the business end of the tournament proper. As for now, at least on paper, the competition seems like a blueprint to the reinvention of continental football.

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  1. I actually think this is good for the fans, in the sense that now these games have more meaning.
    Both teams involve go for it to win. Which makes it fan to watch for neutrals. Unlike playing a friendly with nothing in it. Now all the top players in the teams participate in the games.

    • More meaningful international breaks make it exciting for fans. At least it doesn’t halt the continued competition over the season!

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