Imagining a CAF Nations League

While traditions are often upheld in international football, one of the most prominent changes in recent years has been UEFA’s decision to add another competitive element by creating the Nations League. The competition uses FIFA rankings to determine four tiers which all battle it out in a promotion and relegation system, while the top tier have a tournament to decide the winner of it all.

As it is still in its foundation stage, it is of course expected that the Nations League is still not the most prestigious tournament. However, it has won over many doubters as it has provided many great matches and upsets already such as Germany and Croatia getting relegated and the rejuvenation of the Netherlands. The Nations League has given a competition element to international football between the major tournaments where there would otherwise be meaningless friendlies and run of the mill qualifiers.

The success in Europe begs the question – how would a Nations League work if they were to implement it in Africa? It is less of a pressing issue as the Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup mean that there are international tournaments in three out of every four years for African countries, but there are still a lot of qualifiers to sift through.

As CAF has 56 members while UEFA has 55, it is possible to assume that a CAF Nations League would follow a near enough identical format. If this was the case and there were 12 teams in the top tier, the following would be included based on the FIFA rankings accurate as of January 2019:

Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria, DR Congo, Ghana, Cameroon, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Mali, Ivory Coast and Guinea.

Following the same format, there would also be a second tier comprised of the following nations:

Algeria, South Africa, Cape Verde, Uganda, Zambia, Congo, Gabon, Benin, Mauritania, Libya, Kenya and Madagascar.

It would continue like this for four or five tiers, and as can be seen from the list of teams included it would remain incredibly competitive. Even the teams that are not traditional giants such as Mauritania and Madagascar have shown in 2019 AFCON qualification that they can be competitive and play good quality football.

The competitive nature at the top end of African football would mean that even with a promotion and relegation format, there would always be a constant stream of good footballing sides competing at the top level.

The main glaring issue would be that Africa is geographically much, much bigger than Europe. If a more normal league format was to be implemented rather than the UEFA one, the high number of matches could mean that a more regional based system would have to be put in place in order to prevent teams from getting jaded and fatigued from travelling long distances over a short time period.

The travelling an infrastructure involved could potentially be an issue for the smaller countries. As can be seen in 2018 World Cup qualification, where Chad had to withdraw due to a lack of financial resources, some other countries getting into similar situations could prevent an organised league system in the lower tiers in comparison to Europe where the likes of Luxembourg, Malta and Liechtenstein can afford to host and travel to matches with ease.

There have already been rumours that a CAF Super League may come to fruition at club level, due to the relentless domination at the top end by the likes of Al Ahly, Esperance de Tunis, Etoile du Sahel, Mamelodi Sundowns, Wydad Casablanca and co who have been constants in all of the recent finals. It is only natural that a league format could come into place in the international scene, to add another competitive element to what is already a very competitive continent.


How well do you think a CAF Nations League would fare? Leave a comment below.