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Uefa launches third-tier club competition, changes Nations League format

Uefa executive committee meeting in Ljubljana, September 2019. Image credit: Uefa.com

Uefa announced the launch of a new club competition, the Europa Conference League, and changes to the format of the Nations League national team competition following its executive committee meeting yesterday in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

The Uefa Europa Conference League will be a third-tier competition sitting below the Champions League and Europa League, and will kick off in 2021. Games will be played on Thursdays, with kick-off times at 18:45 and 21:00 Central European Time, similar to the Europa League. The qualification rules for the competition have not yet been confirmed.

The Uefa Nations League will from 2020-21 have 16 teams in Leagues A, B and C, and seven teams in League D. The current structure has 12 teams in Leagues A, B and C and 16 in League D. The Nations League Finals structure remains the same, being contested by the four group winners of League A.

Conference League rules

Last year, the BBC reported that the introduction of the Europa Conference League – at the time with the working title ‘Europa League 2’ – would see entry to the second-tier Europa League confined to top 15 ranked leagues only and a reduction of the number of teams in that competition from 64 to 32. Teams from leagues outside the top 15 would qualify for Europa Conference League, and the winner of the tournament would qualify for the following season’s Europa League.

In December 2018, Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin said: “The new Uefa club competition makes Uefa’s club competitions more inclusive than ever before.

“There will be more matches for more clubs, with more associations represented in the group stages. This competition was borne out of ongoing dialogue with clubs through the European Club Association.

“There was a widespread demand by all clubs to increase their chances of participating more regularly in European competition. This has been achieved with a strategic approach and in accordance with Uefa’s objective of having both more quality and more inclusivity in our club competitions.”

Nations League consultation

In a press release, Uefa said the Nations League changes followed a consultation process with its 55 member associations, which showed the associations wanted to further reduce the number of friendlies they play. The confederation said the changes would also “enhance sporting fairness” because teams in the same group would now play their last matches on the same day and at the same time.

Several media reports have said the Nations League changes mean that Germany, Croatia, Poland and Iceland will avoid being relegated from League A as they would have been under the current structure.

The draw for the 2020-21 Nations League will take place in Amsterdam on March 3, 2020, the same day as the Uefa Congress.

Further decisions

In the press release closing the exco, the committee also noted that it had studied a report on the effect on competitive balance of the revenues raised by Europe’s big five leagues from the 50 other markets on the continent. It said: “The report demonstrates that, in the absence of any solidarity payments going back into the 50 markets, the money taken by the top five leagues is a major contributor to the erosion of competitive balance across Europe.”

Other decisions made at the exco meeting included appointing the following hosts for club and national team competitions:

  • 2021 Champions League Final – Saint Petersburg
  • 2022 Champions League Final – Munich
  • 2023 Champions League Final – London (Wembley)
  • 2021 Europa League Final – Sevilla (Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán)
  • 2021 Super Cup – Belfast
  • Futsal Euro 2022 – The Netherlands
  • European Under-17 Championship – Cyprus 2021; Israel 2022
  • European Under-19 Championship – Romania 2021; Slovakia 2022
  • Women’s Under-17 Championships – Faroe Islands 2021; Bosnia-Herzegovina 2022
  • Women’s Under-19 Championships – Belarus 2021; Czech Republic 2022

The exco also decided to implement the controversial Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology from knockout stage of the 2019-20 Europa League, at the finals of the Women’s Champions League from the 2019-20 final onwards, and at the finals tournament of the 2021 Women’s Euro.