The Nations Cup is international footballs best idea for quite a while. It was bought in by EUFA for three good reasons. One was to try and reduce the meaningless friendlies played by European teams when the European leagues took a week off for international breaks, where national teams often played one qualification game for the World Cup, or European Championships, and then jetted off all over the place for a big money friendly, tiring out club players and annoying the huge clubs with injuries and all sorts. Brazil are specialists in this and rarely plays home friendlies. They would rather play in Milton Keynes than Rio.
Another reason for the Nations Cup was to match up sides in the various leagues and divisions of it on ability alone, meaning the smaller teams like the tax havens and the Kazakhstan’s, although not playing the big teams, played someone their equal and so enjoyed more wins to give them confidence. The third prize was the Nation League structure of four divisions and four leagues in each division would produce 16 teams that go on to play-offs for Euro 2020 that will produce 4 places in the actual Euro 2020 finals, as well as a mini tournament in June, every two years (Portugal next year), with a trophy for the winner from the top league. 20 teams qualify in the traditional way of playing the qualifying groups over 18 months, as per normal, and to be joined by those four teams through the play offs to make up the 24.
The Nations League has been great fun and surprisingly competitive. The league stage finished this week and in the elite league A, Germany failed to qualify, finishing bottom of their three team group and relegated into league B. Knowing the Germans it was strategic so they have easier games in this backstop event in two years time in League B to aid qualification then. They never fail to qualify for the big tournaments through conventional leagues so not that worried. World Champions France also failed to qualify but stayed in the elite league. Belgium, Italy and Spain also fell short but maintained their League A status. Hosts Portugal won their division and Ronaldo will be there in Portugal in June.
England V Switzerland
Portugal v Holland
As teams can be promoted up to the top league there is only one cup final. Then it gets complicated as the main twenty teams who qualify through the normal leagues then see the remaining four places for the finals come from those play-offs, which involve 16 teams highest ranked in the Nations Cup. If any of those 16 qualifies through the normal groups then you go to 17th and 18th etc. The highest ranked team will play the lowest ranked team in those 8 matches for the final four spots. Play-offs from the normal groups have been abolished.
League A – England, Switzerland, Portugal and Holland.
Relegated – Germany, Iceland, Poland and Croatia.
League B – Ukraine, Sweden , Bosnia and Denmark.
Relegated – Slovakia, Turkey, Northern Ireland and Rep of Ireland.
League C – Scotland, Finland, Norway and Serbia.
Relegated – Albania, Greece, Slovenia and Lithuania.
League D – Georgia, Belarus, Kosovo and Macedonia.
The leagues are stacked in the bigger teams favor yet again but the hope is a minnow can somehow get to the finals. Luxembourg, rather mysteriously, seems to be improving rapidly and had three wins in their group. They never used to win international games and get pasted in most. In the last 15 games they have lost just 5, winning 8. The coach needs to be at Man United, his band of lawyers, gardeners, semi pro and fisherman even beating once great World Cup team Hungary by 3-1. Let’s hope we can do what Afghanistan did in cricket and create a new big team this way.