More football, including for Canada

The weekly sports column for the 100 Mile Free Press

The first phase of the biennial UEFA Nations League has just been finished with surprising results.

For those that don’t know, the Nations League consists of the national teams of all 55 members of the Union of European Football Associations. The teams are split into four leagues (A, B, C, D) and then groups of three or four teams based by their national team coefficients.

The winners of all the League A groups go to the finals in 2019, while the losers of each group will be relegated to League B. The winners of B will be promoted and their losers will be relegated and so on.

However, the Nations League is also linked to how teams qualify for the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament. The winners of each group in every league are guaranteed at least a play-off draw if they don’t qualify directly for the Euros. This would only determine the last four spots of the 24-team tournament. It should also note that it is the first time a host will not automatically qualify for the tournament and the tournament will be hosted in 12 countries.

Even though the Nations League hasn’t finished yet, it has already been deemed a success. It has added more meaningful games to the international schedule and has given smaller teams such as Kosovo and Georgia (both won their groups in League D) something to fight for.

There have also been sell-out crowds and high spectator interest, despite receiving a lot of skepticism before the tournament even started.

Bottom line, it keeps the big teams fresh by playing equally qualified teams (for example; Germany, Netherlands and France all played in League A Group 1) and the smaller teams play more games than the standard calendar allows them. The Faroe Islands, who were in League D Group 3 played only three meaningful games in 2017, two in 2016 and only one 2015. In 2018, they played six (only winning one though).

The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association (CONCACAF) is already looking at this model in hopes to strengthen and grow the 41 members of the league (except Guatemala, who have been suspended by FIFA). It is also linked to the Gold Cup, which is CONCACAF’s equivalent to the Euros.

It is set to begin in 2019.

The CONCACAF Nations League is a little different though. Canada and 33 other countries have to play four games to determine which of the three leagues (A, B, C) the teams will be sorted into. Six teams have already been sorted into League A due to their qualification campaign for the 2018 World Cup. Another six teams will join them depending on how the qualification goes.

League B will be made up of 16 teams and League C will be 12 teams.

For the qualification stage, each team will play four games (three have already been played) to determine their spot. As it stands as of Nov. 21, Curacao, Haiti, Canada Cuba, Jamaica and Martinique will join League A with Mexico, the United States, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, Panama and Hondorus. However, that could change with the final games being played on March 21-26, 2019. Canada fans don’t have much to worry though due to their opponent being French Guiana. At the end of qualification, the top ten teams will also qualify for the Gold Cup. So including the aforementioned teams who could be in League A, they could be joined by Bermuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

A good chunk of those teams have never reached the Gold Cup.

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