- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

GENEVA (AP) - UEFA is preparing a Nations League to replace most international friendlies, and wants to offer qualifying places for the European Championship.

UEFA’s 54 member federations will be asked on Thursday at their annual Congress to approve the new competition which could kick off after the 2018 World Cup.

Two officials with knowledge of the Nations League told The Associated Press that the format should give some direct entries to UEFA’s showpiece national team event, Euro 2020.

They were not authorized to comment ahead of a scheduled presentation on Thursday.

UEFA President Michel Platini has pledged in his second term in office to raise the status and commercial value of friendlies amid the rise in popularity of lucrative European club football.

The Nations League would guarantee fixtures between top-ranked countries and allow promotion and relegation between up to four divisions of national teams.

UEFA members were told the top tier could be decided by a four-team tournament, played in mid-2019 at a neutral venue.

Matches would be played on dates reserved for international fixtures on the FIFA calendar, which states when clubs must release players to national teams.

The current calendar expires in July 2018, after the World Cup in Russia, and was agreed after pressure from European clubs to remove unpopular friendly dates in February and August. National teams will now play two competitive or friendly matches spread over a six-day, Thursday-to-Tuesday window.

UEFA’s plans to add a third senior international competition, following the World Cup and Euro, would increase the number of competitive matches for top players.

The project could also boost the commercial value of UEFA-controlled broadcast rights and sponsorship for national team matches.

By centralizing the marketing of major tournament qualifiers starting in September, UEFA created pressure to pay promised compensation to national federations after it made preliminary groups less dramatic by expanding Euro 2016 to 24 teams from 16.

UEFA has previously used the tactic of boosting a competition’s appeal by offering qualification to a more lucrative event.

Last year, Europa League winners from 2015 were promised entry to the following season’s Champions League.

If the Nations League is approved, the fixture dates will be shaped by ongoing talks over the next FIFA calendar which should run through the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

FIFA is expected to decide by March 2015 if that tournament should be switched from June-July to a November kickoff.

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