Get the lowdown on international football’s fancy new makeover…
UEFA Nations League, from Thursday 6 September, Sky Sports
The first international break of the season is usually seen as a cruel interruption to the early excitement of the Premier League, but things are a little different this year.
Why? Because it’s the start of the UEFA Nations League, a new tournament which has the potential to make international football outside of the World Cup and Euros fun again. And it all kicks off this week with a whopping 36 live matches on Sky Sports.
In total, Sky Sports will be showing 49 live games between now and mid-November, including every fixture involving England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Still, there are a few questions on everyone’s lips: what actually is the UEFA Nations League? How does it work? And what’s the point of it anyway? Read on to find out everything you need to know, then head to the bottom of the page to see what this week’s big games on the box are…
What is the UEFA Nations League?
It’s an attempt to revolutionise international football in Europe outside of big tournaments. Whereas before we’ve often been subjected to watching second- or even third-string teams play out bore draws in meaningless October friendlies, all the nations in UEFA will now be pitted against others of a similar level in mini-league formats, with points, pride and trophies to play for – not to mention the threat of relegation looming over every game.
So friendlies are being scrapped?
Not quite. There will still be occasions when countries can pick and choose their opponents, particularly in the run-up to major tournaments. There will just be fewer of them – which we can all agree is probably a good thing.
So how does it all work?
The 55 competing nations are first split into four mini-leagues based on their UEFA ranking from November 2017. League A is home to all the highest-ranked teams, and League D the lowest.
Next, each league is split into four groups made up of three or four teams. Each country will then play the other teams in their group twice. Once all these fixtures have been completed, the four nations at the bottom of their groups in Leagues A, B and C will be relegated to the league below, and the four teams who topped their group in Leagues B, C and D will be promoted. All the promoted and relegated teams will then begin in their new leagues in the next season of the Nations League, which starts in 2020.
What about the teams that top the groups in League A?
These teams – which could include England, who face Croatia and Spain in League A Group 4 – qualify for something called the Final Four, a mini tournament to be held in summer 2019. Each of the four group winners will play a single-leg semi-final against one of the others, with the winners progressing to the final and battling it out to be crowned Nations League champions.
OK… but why does it matter?
It’s all about making international football more competitive. Plus, for the lower-ranked teams it provides a possible route into the Euros. The highest-placed team in each league that does not reach the tournament through regular qualifying will get one of the 24 spots in the 2020 tournament. Yes, that means that the likes of Kosovo, San Marino or Gibraltar could be at the Euros in two years. (Although probably not.)
When will it be played?
The first round of fixtures starts on Thursday 6 September, and the tournament will continue during the international breaks throughout the winter. That means there will also be games in mid-October and mid-November. The Final Four games will then be played in early June 2019.
Selected live UEFA Nations League fixtures this week
Wales v Republic of Ireland
Thursday 6 September, 7pm, Sky Sports Main Event/HD (CH 511/501)
Germany v France
Thursday 6 September, 7.40pm, Sky Sports Football/HD (CH 513/503)
Northern Ireland v Bosnia-Herzegovina
Saturday 8 September, 1.30pm, Sky Sports Football/HD (CH 513/503)
England v Spain
Saturday 8 September, 7pm, Sky Sports Football/HD (CH 513/503)
Denmark v Wales
Sunday 9 September, 4.30pm, Sky Sports Football/HD (CH 513/503)
Scotland v Albania
Monday 10 September, 7.30pm, Sky Sports Main Event/HD (CH 511/501)
Portugal v Italy
Monday 10 September, 7.40pm, Sky Sports Football/HD (CH 513/503)
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