- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014

Seeking to bolster national team football amid the rampant success of club competitions, UEFA’s 54 member countries voted to create the Nations League on Thursday.

The competition will replace most continental friendlies - long unpopular with club coaches - when it kicks off in September 2018.

UEFA boosted the new event by guaranteeing it would feed into qualifying for the 2020 European Championship. It could later be incorporated into European qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.

“This is a very important decision for the future of football at the level of national teams,” UEFA President Michel Platini said after the unanimous vote at their annual congress.

Platini had pledged to raise the status and commercial value of friendlies. It has struggled against competition from popular and lucrative European domestic leagues and UEFA’s own Champions League.

The European Club Association representing more than 200 clubs said it “has taken note” of the announcement which could fuel club vs. country tensions.

It requires them to release their players for extra competitive fixtures.

“The European clubs do not oppose such a project, as the number of international matches in the calendar remains unchanged,” said the ECA, which campaigned to remove the February and August dates once set aside for friendlies. “Once more details concerning the competition format are available, ECA will analyze the possible impact on club football.”

Platini acknowledged that friendlies “really don’t interest anybody.”

“Neither the audience at large, neither the journalists nor the players,” he said later at a news conference.

The Nations League format is yet to be finalized, although it foresees 54 teams ranked in four divisions playing from September to November 2018.

The 12 highest-ranked teams would play in four three-team groups in Division A. Those group winners would advance to a “final four” tournament in June 2019. Teams could be promoted or relegated through the divisions.

All 54 teams would still play in traditional Euro 2020 qualifying groups from March-November 2019.

The qualifying playoffs for Euro 2020 would then be scheduled in March 2020. That lineup would be decided by Nations League results of teams which did not qualify directly for the tournament.

Platini confirmed that each of the four divisions, including the lowest-ranked, should send one team to Euro 2020. That would offer teams such as the Faeroe Islands, Gibraltar or San Marino a chance to debut at a major event.

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