For the first time in many years, September will not see the traditional commencement or continuation of a UEFA qualifying group for a major championships. Instead next month UEFA members will take a step into the unknown with the start of the UEFA Nations League.
This new format appears to have two main purposes; the elimination of friendly matches from the fixture calendar; and secondly, offering an entry point to the 2020 UEFA European Championships. While the former is very much welcome, the latter might be less so given the competition structure of the new league.
With 55 teams set to take part, countries will be divided into four groups based on international performance over the past number of years. Group A includes the likes of Belgium, France and Germany. The Republic of Ireland are in Group B (second-tier) along with countries such as Russia and Sweden. Group C contains weaker nations again such as Bulgaria, Finland and Albania, while Group D comprises of the traditionally weakest teams such as Malta, Latvia and San Marino.
The good news for the minnows is that they not only get to play one another, and therefore have a golden opportunity to register a rare international win, the winner of this group also qualifies for the 2020 European Championships. This poses an obvious question? Is a country better-off targeting a place in Group D rather than Group C? This logic can apply to Group C/B and Group B/A.
It will be interest to see how this plays out in the months and years ahead. It may be that some tweaking of the competition structure is required. This is certainly not unusual for new competitions.