It is the competition that required explainer articles and videos breaking down just exactly how it works. But with one round of fixtures remaining in this international break, the UEFA Nations League has managed to convince some of its doubters, after producing spectacular goals, controversial moments and compelling stories.
Once you wrap your head around the format, the promotion and relegation between leagues and how Euro 2020 qualification factors in, the Nations League has livened up the international break.
The benefits of having an actual competition, as opposed to a plethora of friendlies has been obvious. These games all have something riding on them. Teams are taking them seriously.
Thanks to the league set up, countries are playing others at their level creating competitive games.
Fans have been treated to some spectacular goals; from Giorgi Chakvetadze’s historic goal for Georgia – the first in the tournament’s history, to Gareth Bale’s belter for Wales against Ireland, to Olivier Giroud’s 878 minute drought breaking stunner.
There have been contentious calls with the Netherlands seemingly denied a penalty in the match against France.
Meanwhile, Wales conceded a penalty against Denmark that raised questions over the interpretation and application of the handball rule.
The Nations League has ensured that the joy of international matches is combined with something more tangible, whether that be making it to the Nations League Finals, getting promoted to the next league or eventually earning a place at EURO 2020.
The League also benefits from a regular string of international breaks to end the year. Once the mid-September window is over, the competition will continue during the next two breaks in mid-October and mid-November respectively.
The frequency of fixtures lends credibility to the League and is helping to embed itself into the minds of football fans. Once we progress pass this group stage, however, the pauses between match days becomes longer.
The last group stage match day is in mid-November, but the actual finals won’t be played until early-June 2019. Additionally, the Euro qualification play-offs won’t be drawn until November 2019 and aren’t played until March 2020.
Whether these pauses help or hinder how the League is perceived and respected remains to be seen, but the early signs are positive.
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