The UEFA Nations League

    The UEFA Nations League
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    19/09/22 796

    The UEFA Nations League is a relatively new international competition for European nations. It was designed to replace international friendly matches as many of the friendly fixtures were being criticised for their lack of meaning and entertainment.

    The structure of the Nations League is such that teams are divided into four leagues based on their ranking. This means teams should be playing regularly against other teams of a similar ability, giving every nation the opportunity to win matches.

    There are 16 teams in Leagues A, B, and C, and 7 teams in League D. Leagues A and B comprise of the 32 highest-ranked UEFA national associations and more matches are played in these two leagues.

    There is relegation and promotion between the four leagues, so teams can move up and down depending on performance.

    The winners of the four groups in League A qualify to compete in the UEFA Nations League Finals. There are two semi-finals and one final to decide the winner of the competition.

    Interestingly, the Nations League is linked to both European Championship and World Cup qualifying, adding an extra layer of competitiveness to the competition, especially for nations who fail to qualify through the regular qualifying procedure.

    At the time of writing, we have only two previous winners of the Nations League. Portugal tasted success in 2018/19, beating Switzerland 3-1 in the semi-final and Netherlands 1-0 to win the final.

    Gonçalo Guedes, currently of Wolverhampton Wanderers in the English Premier League, scored the only goal of the game. France won the 2020/21 Nations League, defeating Belgium 3-2 in an exciting semi-final before recording a 2-1 win over Spain in the final.

    If we look at the movement of some of the nations, there are only two teams who have played in three different leagues. Armenia have played in Leagues D, C, and B having enjoyed two consecutive promotions. Hungary have played in Leagues C, B, and A, having also climbed through the leagues in the short space of the competition.

    If we look at the most recently completed Nations League tournament, Romelu Lukaku of Belgium and Ferran Torres of Spain finished as the joint top goalscorers, with 6 goals to their name.

    Christian Eriksen, Kylian Mbappé, and Timo Werner all scored 4 goals. Lukaku has been the one man who has enjoyed playing in the Nations League more than any other player and he has 10 goals to his name from the two completed competitions in League A.

    With 6 goals in League B for the 2020/21 Nations League and 5 goals in the same league to date in the 2022/23 Nations League, Erling Haaland is on course to become the overall top scorer.

    Thanks to the success of the UEFA Nations League, other confederations have followed suit and there is a CONCACAF Nations League, with an AFC Nations League also a possibility.

    There have even been discussions regarding the inclusion in the UEFA Nations League of the 10 nations from South America.

    If successful, the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Uruguay could join the 2024/25 edition of the competition. That would be hugely exciting but would need some adjustment, with the top six South American nations starting in League A.