LEUVEN, Belgium (Reuters) - With three World Cup winners and his own top ranked Belgian team qualifying for the final four, Roberto Martinez believes the Nations League is fast becoming an estimable part of the football calendar.
“This is only the second edition but when you look at the teams in the final four, this has quickly become a prestigious competition,” said the Belgium coach after his country beat Denmark 4-2 in Leuven on Wednesday to win their group and advance to next October’s finals.
They will be joined by France and Spain, who advanced on Tuesday, and Italy, who beat Bosnia away on Wednesday to book their place.
“It’s a tournament with quality of opponents that you want to be facing, with a semi-final and final against these sort of teams," Martinez said.
“For us, these are games that we need. You only get these kind of knockout games in big tournaments, so I’m a big fan of this competition."
Martinez also said the qualifying process, which squeezed six games into a three month period, allowed teams to build consistency but also bring in new players.
The Nations League was designed for international matchdays when there are no World Cup or European Championship qualifiers, which were previously filled with inconsequential friendlies.
It kicked off two years ago when Portugal won the inaugural final four, beating the Netherlands in the final with England and Switzerland the other two group winners.
The latest edition also provided a pathway for teams to win the last four places at the next European Championship through playoff ties.
(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Toby Chopra)