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UEFA approves new Nations League football tournament

UEFA has said its newly-approved Nations League football competition will begin in 2018. With the full details of the tournament not yet known, the reaction from the European club world was cautious approval.

The 54 member nations of UEFA voted unanimously on Thursday to start the Nations League. The competition will replace most international friendlies on the continent and provide qualification to the 2020 European Championship.

The Nations League will be played parallel to the World Cup and European Championship.

"This is a very important decision for the future of football at the level of national teams," UEFA President Michel Platini said after the vote.

Multi-tiered competition

The exact format of the tournament, which was first revealed on Wednesday, has yet to be finalized. However, four spots at Euro 2020 will be made available through the new competition for sides that might not otherwise have qualified. The Nations League could also be incorporated into qualification for the 2022 World Cup.

"Twenty teams will advance from the qualifying competition to the Euro 2020 finals - which are being played in 13 cities around Europe," UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino told delegates at the Congress in Astana. "That leaves four extra slots to be filled and they will come from four teams from the Nations League who have not otherwise qualified through qualifiers."

Platini said the new competition will be a way to replace the relatively meaningless international friendly dates on the FIFA calendar with competitive fixtures. The move is part of his pledge to increase the commercial value of international football, which has struggled against the lucrative domestic competitions and the Champions League.

"The friendlies really don't interest anybody, neither the audience at large, neither the journalists nor the players," Platini said.

The Nations League would see 54 international sides split up among four divisions playing from September to November of 2018. The 12 highest-ranked teams would play in four three-team groups in Division A, with the group winners advancing to a "final four" tournament to be held in June 2019. Teams can be promoted or relegated between divisions.

Tacit club approval

The reaction from the club football world to the new competition was cautiously approving, as the full details of the Nations League are not yet known.

"The European Clubs do not oppose such a project, as the number of international matches in the calendar remains unchanged," said the European Club Association, which represents more than 200 teams. "Once more details concerning the competition format become available, ECA will analyze the possible impact on club football."

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the European Club Association (ECA) chief and chief executive of Bayern Munich's public traded entity FC Bayern München AG, said the Nations League won't have a negative impact on club football assuming it has the right format.

"We are not against the Nations Cup … Now it is important to find a format that suits broadcasters, fans and sponsors," Rummenigge told the DPA news agency.

FIFA acknowledged in a statement that continental football competitions "are at the full discretion of the respective confederation," but said allowing the Nations League to determine World Cup berths would need approval.

dr/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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