You might not know your Group A4 from your Group D2, and yes, it might on the face of it be the most complicated thing in football aside from the new handball law. But, in truth, the Uefa Nations League is bloody brilliant.
After decades of qualification tournaments which almost exclusively featured the likes of France, Spain and Germany taking it in turns to put 10 past San Marino, Uefa finally came up with a way of getting Europe’s major countries playing each other regularly with something on the line. The result is the Nations League, and this weekend sees the latest round of fixtures in the second edition of a competition which most people are still getting their heads around.
But if the 54 teams, 14 groups, four leagues, and separate finals tournament – complete with dreaded third-place play-off – are a bit much for you, simply consider the bottom line here… England get to play serious nations for real silverware instead of swatting aside Andorra for the 50th time to the benefit of absolutely nobody.
International football had reached a stage where fixture schedules consisted of supposedly competitive games against minnows, interwoven with the latest batch of lucrative friendlies against the same nations they’d played all-too recently. Haven’t we all lost count of the amount of times England have played Portugal, or Germany, or the Netherlands in recent years in friendly matches more memorable for paper planes being flown around Wembley than anything that actually happened in the game? And all that just to annoy club sides who hated nothing more than losing their better players for 10 days at a time, for games that meant absolutely nowt.
The Nations League has injected life into the international game. Not only do we get to see good sides battle it out against each other, we also get to see rubbish teams take on other rubbish teams too. And that is far better than it sounds. Rather than turning up for the latest inevitable 8-0 spanking, the likes of Malta and Liechtenstein get to play matches they might actually win for a change, and finally enjoy a ding-dong battle for once.
There’s even promotion and relegation, with Scotland ascending from League C to League B in the inaugural edition in 2018-19, after besting Israel and Albania. They’re now on top of their group again, and another promotion this time around would see them taking on the continent’s best sides for a place in the 2023 finals tournament. What’s not to love about that?
It might be convoluted, but it’s a massive step up on what we used to have. And, like the various sub-sections of the offside law, we’ll know the format like the back of our hands soon enough anyway. It might also be England’s best hope of winning something for the first time since 1966, so let’s not knock it, eh?