Tag Archives: International football

UEFA Nations League: An experiment that could go either way

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Yeah, it’s a little complicated. Source: UEFA.com

Something that went a little under the radar this week in the world of football was UEFA’s announcement of a new international tournament, the UEFA Nations League.

The basic principle, try to stick with it as it is a little convoluted, is that 55 teams will be competing in four separate league containing four groups in each starting in September 2018. The winners of the groups will be promoted to the next league, the bottom team in each of those groups are relegated.

The four winners of League A will compete in a knockout round called the Final Four, that will take place in June 2019. It will be replacing friendlies during the autumn period and will happen every two years in between the other two major international competitions.

Did you keep up? It’s a lot to take in.

It is a good move for those that hate irrelevant friendlies as it eliminates most of them other than those before a tournament. With more of the international breaks either devoted to qualifying or to the Nations League, there will be less fluff and more emphasis on building a team that can compete at any occasion.

That, in turn, may improve the quality of international football during the season. With more games meaning something, teams are more likely to play strong starting line-ups and that consistency will also help managers in building a proper squad rather than piling up those that did well for their clubs.

UEFA do say in their reveal piece that it will not increase their workload, which is true during the season, but for the bigger teams in the Final Four of the tournament it surely would. While it may take the place of some summer friendlies that would usually occur, it will be much more competitive and for those in nations like Spain or Germany that may get to the finals regularly, it could tire out their players in an already hectic schedule.

It will also be an unwelcome addition to the season for club sides, who will not be happy that their players are playing more competitive fixtures. That opens them up to potentially more injuries during the season and potential to need extra time off after the summer finals.

Whether it is a tournament that really catches fire remains to be seen. It’s not the best idea but it’s also not the worst, with the incentive of performing well in the lower divisions giving you a real chance of making the European Championships rather than the convoluted third-place system for Euro 2016.

However, it will be the competitive nature at the top that will be the real factor. Competing against teams of a similar level will help show a measuring stick ahead of a big championship but will those teams also clamour for the title or will it be a glorified friendly tournament.

Again, only time will tell. The best case scenario is it makes international football a little more exciting overall as it improves competitiveness or it implodes with the extra work load and potential lack of enthusiasm for another tournament.

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Is expanding the World Cup a good idea?

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The World Cup is changing, but for the better? Source: CNN

This morning, FIFA president Gianni Infantino announced that from 2026, the World Cup will be expanding to a 48-team format.

Sixteen groups of three teams will duke it out for two qualifying spots before the final 32 face off in knockout rounds. There will be a decision made two years before the finals whether ties in the group stages will be settled by penalty shootouts.

So, the real question out of this is, have they gone absolutely bloomin’ bonkers?

Well FIFA certainly don’t think so, as they can’t see any of the anger towards them through the shower of money raining in front of them. With the extra 16 games comes only more need for fans to fill stadiums, more games for television companies to cast and more heavy-duty wallets for the bigwigs.

That’s not to say that any positive is because of greed. The four additional spots for Asia and Africa to qualify are great for two developing continents within the world of football to gain exposure on what is the largest stage.

It’s also another well for FIFA to drain should it take of as well.

However, there are also legitimate arguments against the idea of a big expansion like this, starting with it diluting the competition element of the tournament. With the most recent European Championships a prime example, adding more teams means that some that missed out because they weren’t good enough then will slip through the cracks, bringing the overall football on show down a peg.

That also, unfortunately, includes those extra teams coming from nations like Asia and Africa. When current rankings are taken into consideration, teams like Sweden, Denmark, Scotland and Austria would not make it whereas powerful footballing sides like China, UAE and Curacao would.

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Infantino has wanted to expand the tournament for a long time and he finally has his wish. Source: Sportzwiki.com

 

But then, those heart-warming stories about the plucky underdog can become more likely. With some bigger nations maybe taking it easy or tired from a long season, some small nation may get the chance to stun us like Iceland or Wales did in Euro 2016.

Then again, there’s just as much chance of drubbings that require the score prompter to spell out the number because it’s got that high.

There will also be a big backlash from a number of the big European clubs, filled with international players, who already have to give some a longer rest if they go far in the tournament. With it likely to last longer or attempt to pack more matches into a shorter timeframe, especially with plans to move kick off times for big markets, it will only exacerbate an already strong issue for club football.

It also boggles the mind of the football purists, who can’t even fathom trying to cover that many games in a short space of time. That fatigue will also eventually hit the regular fan too, exhausted from a long club season and a myriad of pointless qualifiers that have even less significance now that when it does come to the summer, they would rather take a few weeks off.

Lost in some of this is the dream machine it will hopefully make for some of the youngsters around the world in some of the most impoverished areas. That may be true and that’s a beautiful idealism to root for but is that FIFA’s forward thinking or a by-product of them trying to expand their grip into new markets?

This is sure to be a debate that will roll on until the tournament, wherever it may be held, rolls around in nine years’ time. While some will be shaking their heads, some like those in FIFA will simply be blue-balling themselves with dollar signs in their eyes until then.

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