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We have heard about this new innovative idea for months, but the time has come for it actually to commence. But, what exactly does the UEFA Nations League actually entail? The new national team competition that replaces friendlies with competitive matches, allowing nations to play against equally ranked teams. The four group winners of the top-ranked League A qualify for the UEFA Nations League finals on June 2019. For the remaining sides, there is promotion and relegation to play for, not to mention a potential route to UEFA Euro 2020.
The 55 associations were split into four Leagues according to their position in the UEFA National Team Coefficient Rankings. A draw was held in Switzerland to further divide each League into groups of three or four. Teams play each other home and away in September, October and November. The group winners in Leagues B, C and D gain promotion. Those who finish bottom of the groups in Leagues A, B and C face relegation. The tournament will take place biannually.
Okay, now it is time for the confusing part. Euro qualifiers for the 24-team Euro 2020 will remain. However, this is not the only opportunity of qualifying for the competition. Twenty teams will make it to Euro 2020 from qualifying, with the top two in each of the 10 groups advancing. The remaining four places become clear in March 2020, in the Nations League playoffs.
Each of the four leagues (A, B, C and D) will hold playoffs, which will take place in March 2020 and which will be contested by the respective group winners, with semi-finals and a final being played. However, if a group winner has already qualified via the classic route, then their spot will go to the next best-ranked team in their league. And if a league does not contain four teams to compete, the remaining slots are allocated to teams from another league. All of which means that one place at Euro 2020 will go to a team from League D, comprised of the continent’s traditional minnows. So we could potentially see Kosovo at Euro 2020. I hope that all makes sense.
— UEFA Nations League (@UEFAEURO) January 24, 2018
The UEFA Nations League match weeks are below, though teams in Leagues A and B only play on four of them – they have friendlies on the other dates.
Matchday 1: 6–8 September 2018
Matchday 2: 9–11 September 2018
Matchday 3: 11–13 October 2018
Matchday 4: 14–16 October 2018
Matchday 5: 15–17 November 2018
Matchday 6: 18–20 November 2018
Finals draw: tbc
Finals: 5–9 June 2019
UEFA EURO 2020 play-off draw: 22 November 2019
UEFA EURO 2020 play-offs: 26–31 March 2020
England: Fresh from a fourth-place finish at the World Cup, Gareth Southgate’s boys will look to manoeuvre themselves out of a difficult draw. Currently ranked 6th in the world they, as a top seed, a tough draw loomed. 2010 World Champions Spain as well as an early chance to get revenge on semifinal conquerers Croatia, completes a very competitive group. However, the way England performed in Russia adds some extra confidence to the boys to hopefully progress.
Scotland: The second coming of Alex McLeish at the helm and a new captain, Liverpool’s Andy Roberton. It is a fresh start for Scotland and one I believe the tartan army can get excited about. A favourable draw as they come up against Israel and Albania. Ultimately, this could prove Scotland the best chance to qualify for a first major tournament since Euro 1996.
Northern Ireland: Keeping hold of Michael O’Neil should be considered a massive success for the Green Army, as it seemed inevitable he was going to leave. Northern Ireland remains an incredibly hard side to beat and having kept a majority of the players from the run to the Round of 16 in 2016, they remain a team to fear. Bosnia & Herzegovina and Austria should be worried.
Wales: Wales shook the footballing world by reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2016. A new man in charge in legendary player Ryan Giggs kickstarts his managerial career. He may take time to find his feet in management so it could be a trip into the unknown for many Welsh fans. Although, this is still a side that has Gareth Bale, and by having Gareth Bale anything is possible. Wales come up against the Republic of Ireland and Denmark.
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BY - George Tipper
5 September 2018