Friday, July 14, 2017

UEFA Nations League: Losing could improve your chances

Just a word of warning - I'm not suggesting any FA/player/manager should/will/are prone to lose matches on purpose. This is just an analysis. I'm very much against match fixing.

Did you know each European FA qualified for EURO 2016 got 8 million Euros from UEFA? Not bad, eh? Of course, there's also the achievement of being at a final tournament and all that warm and fuzzy feeling. It's quite nice to qualify.

But what if you're a country that never made it to the finals (World Cup or EURO)? Is there something you could do to tip the scales in your favour? Since each league gets a EURO 2020 slot, would dropping to, say, League D help? Who's the last team in League C? Finland. A team already eliminated from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers and only 1 point - at home vs. Kosovo.

Remember the UEFA Nations League simulations? Using those leagues at the end I ran two sets of simulations. One with Finland in League C, the other with Finland in League D and Belarus moved up to League C.

Finland in League C

Qualified 1426 times out of 10000 (377 through the UNL playoffs).

Finland in League D

Qualified 3049 times out of 10000 (2218 through the UNL playoffs).

As you can see Finland more than doubled their qualification chances. What I'm trying to say here is this: the qualifying system is flawed. Imagine if Finland knew this and would start using fringe/new players in order to "expand the player pool and better prepare for EURO 2020". Losing the remaining 4 games would of course be blamed on the lack of experience. And if they win the March 2020 UEFA Nations League playoffs they might say it was worth it and perhaps a beginning of a golden era for Finnish football...

While I didn't actually run sims for Cyprus, Lithuania and Estonia , I'm sure their chances of qualifying to EURO 2020 would improve if they were to drop to League D.

About me:

Christian, husband, father x 3, programmer, Romanian. Started the blog in March 2007. Quit in April 2018. You can find me on LinkedIn.


  1. Yes while im happy that the lesser likes with get a guaranteed place at euro 2020 it certainly doesn't provide much motivation for teams hovering above the cut off.

  2. This also shows that Finland's chances to qualify via the Nations League sppecifically would increase almost sixfold. And I suspect that many of the weaker teams will be relying primarily or solely on the Nations League, rather than on the actual qualifications, for a slot in Euro 2020.

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  4. Yes, it was predictable... and remember that League D was set to be a real possibility of winning some games and competing between really weak nations: Gibraltar, San Marino, Andorra, Malta, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, etc. But now, what are their chances playing against for example Finland? It is even possible that every edition of League D will have clear favourites with almost no teams being able to compete them in fight for advance to League C. In other words, League D has been planned as an interesting format for the weekest but we should expect a very boring one every 2 years.

  5. This is what I wrote last year:

    AnonymousNovember 19, 2016 at 4:04 AM
    It's interesting that teams like Scotland, Serbia, or Bulgaria have a much tougher road to Euro 2020 than Estonia, Georgia, or Armenia.

    When UEFA announced the first Nations League they said all the federations had voted in favor. I wonder if they realized this was going to happen.

    By the way, ESPN bought the rights for the next two editions. That means - here in the U.S. - we should be able to see all games from every league, A, B, C, and D. ESPN is doing a great job showing European tournaments here in America: they had all the games from the U-21 final tournament and now they have all the games from the 2017 Women Euro.

  6. Interesting article. There actually was some speculation in the Finnish media this summer about the D League but the FA, of course, stated that the team is aiming to end the qualis on a high.

    Why is there so big difference between the C League 'Through normal qualifiers' and the D League one? I thought you were placed to the same qualifying pot if you place exactly 40th in the ranking as if you were in the lower end of the C League ranking spots. Have you made some of the simulations with Finland being lower than 40th and therefore in the lower pot?

    1. UEFA says: "The overall UEFA Nations League rankings will determine the composition of the draw pots for the subsequent European Qualifiers."

      I use the ranking after the UNL is played (well, simulated) to seed the ECQ draw.

  7. I have an important question:
    Will the results of Nations League games be calculated to National Team Coefficient which determine the seeding for Euro qualifying draw.

    For example Wikipedia says only that:
    20 of the 24 spots for the finals tournament will be decided from the main qualifying process, leaving four spots still to be decided. The 55 teams will be drawn into 10 groups after the completion of the UEFA Nations League (five groups of five teams and five groups of six teams, with the four UEFA Nations League Final Four participants guaranteed to be drawn into groups of five teams), with the top two teams in each group qualifying.

  8. In the information provided so far by UEFA they stated about this subject:
    • In the first edition of the UNL-competition, the participating sides will be classified according to the UEFA national team coefficient rankings (ranking as per 15 November 2017, i.e. conclusion of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers)
    • The overall UEFA Nations League rankings will determine the composition of the draw pots for the subsequent European Qualifiers.

    So it seems they will use the NT-coefficients ranking for the draw of the first UNL 2018-2019 and for the subsequent EURO qualifiers draw refer to a new ranking which seems to consist of the ranked performance of each team in the UNL.
    It remains unclear if UEFA will use an NT-coefficient ranking again for the draw of the second UNL 2010-2021.

  9. second UNL 2020-2021 that is :)

  10. So, am I correct thinking that for example: teams that will play weak games in League A (against very strong opponents) and will be relegated to next-season League B can have big disadvantage in Euro qualifying seedings in comparison to the best teams of League B which will earn good results against weaker rivals).
    Now, NT coefficient is calculated based only on WC and EC qualifiers and final tournament results. If we would add the Nations League results the method of calculation of them into NT coefficient will have a high importance. To my mind, justice would have been kept only if WC(Q) and EC(Q) games have strongly higher weight and influence for NT ranking and seedings that Nations League matches.

    1. I don't think it will work like that. Recall the rules for qualifying for the Euros through the NL: "The play-off berths will be first allocated to each pool winner, and if any of the pool winners have already qualified for the European Championship finals, then to the next best ranked team of the division"

      In practice, that will likely mean that every team in league "A" that could not qualify through the normal method will get a second-chance through the Nations League playoff. Furthermore, they will probably be playing against League B teams in that play-off anyway. Also, home advantage in the play-off will be based on your overall ranking.
      So overall, there might still be a (very slight?) advantage to being a member of League A, but I haven't done the math.

  11. Well, it will also depend on the weight the UNL-matches will get for the FIFA ranking calculation. Will they be considered as friendlies or as continental qualifiers or even as a continental finals tournament? To maintain the current status quo between the most important confederations in terms of number of high-valued (so non-friendly) matches per confederation per four year cycle, the UNL-matches should logically be considered as friendlies. If that's the case then it is a bit odd to compile a ranking out of a bunch of friendly matches and use that ranking to seed the EURO-qualifiers.
    But I think UEFA will market the UNL as a high profile 'title'-tournament and in that case it feels legitimate to use the UNL-matches to seed the qualifiers. Either way, a better option in my opinion would then be to incorporate the UNL-matches in the UEFA NT-coefficient ranking (extra weights for certain matches not necessary I think) and keep using that ranking as seeding instrument. It will give a more balanced view of the relative strenghts of the European teams.

  12. Another thought on this:

    Let's say only 1 team from League A misses out on Euro qualifying. Does that mean that the 3 best non-qualifying teams from League B then have to join the League A team in a play-off for a remaining spot? With lesser performing teams in League B then getting their own play-off, perhaps with the strongest teams from League C in!??

    In other words: the best teams from Group B who don't qualify for the Euros might have to play-off against a Group A team, while the weaker teams from Group B could end up with a Group C nation such as Finland or Lithuania in a play-off!

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  14. What will UEFA do when the WC qualifying comes and they need to allocate only 13 spots for the entire confederation with this system? Will it be only 10 berths through normal qualifying route, with only group winners being awarded a berth, and each one of the remaining three (and it should be four according to the system, clearly something doesn't feel right) being allocated to a UNL division? This way there's a big chance that UEFA will end up preventing from reaching the World Cup a considerably strong team from League A that would have lost the play-off for their division and narrowly missing out in the normal qualifiers (and actually it could happen even to a powerhouse like Italy or England, as in the worst case scenario they'd need just to be a little unlucky for the disaster of finishing second in their qualifying group and losing the play-off against possibly a very strong League A opposition). And that would be done in exchange of giving a World Cup ticket to the likes of Azerbaijan, Estonia or even Luxembourg, teams which are far from standing a realistic chance of reaching the knockout stage of a tournament on this level and probably would be serious candidates of finishing with one of the worst records ever in World Cup history. Is that really what UEFA wants? Did they even think about such weird things that could happen because of their qualifying system? Or will they do something different about that and I'm missing some detail?

  15. Did you take into account in your simulations the fact that if Finland remain in League C they may finish 5th or 6th to qualify for the playoffs, because a couple of teams from League C already made it into the Euros?