How the Uefa Nations League breathed life into the 'lower leagues' of international football
Luxembourg’s record during their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign made for pretty dour reading. Their 10 matches ended as followed: 1-1, 2-3, 0-4, 0-3, 0-3, 0-3, 1-0, 2-0, 4-0, 2-4.
This was, however, some way off the worst qualifying campaign ever seen. Their fans got to enjoy six goals as well as a win and a draw. In attempting to make it to Euro 2000 and then again to Euro 2004, they lost every single match. They scored only twice. In the same game. When they were already 3-0 down.
So, clearly, things have got a hell of a lot better for the Luxembourg national team, but even so, a win and a draw in their last campaign was enough only to see them finish 18 points adrift of the qualification spots. When they beat Macedonia 1-0 with a 92nd-minute winner, three points merely meant they would beat their opponents to fifth place in the group of six.
For many Luxembourg fans the chance to see France, Germany or England’s stars is a large part of what is exciting about international football, even knowing that there is virtually no chance of a result. The reality of the situation, however, is that just about every one of Luxembourg’s qualifiers in their history has been meaningless. The chances of achieving anything at all in traditional qualifying remains resolutely at zero.
Now though, all that has changed. The format of the Uefa Nations League has breathed new life into the ‘lower leagues’ of international football. Where previously there was nothing riding on any of their games, qualifying campaigns now bring with them a genuine chance of what the name suggests: qualification.
That is because the teams that finish top of the four groups in League D in the UNL – the fourth tier of four leagues – will play off against one another for a spot at Euro 2020. Yes, that’s right, one of the 16 lowest-ranked sides in Europe will line up at the next major tournament.