Ireland meet Wales in their first UEFA Nations League match in Cardiff tomorrow evening at 7:45pm. But what exactly is the Nations League I hear you ask?
UEFA have decided to fill the void between World Cup and European Championship tournaments and their associated qualification tournaments with another mini-league called the UEFA nations league. This will be played off during a window of International fixtures in September, October and November previously used to host international friendly matches.
UEFA now has 55 member countries, from World Cup Winners France and beaten finalists Croatia, to minnows like Liechtenstein and Gibraltar. To avoid mismatches the 55 teams have been placed into four divisions according to ‘UEFA’s national association coefficient ranking’ (a fancy way of saying seeded according to how good they are, it’s not dissimilar to FIFA’s ranking system).
League A – Contains the big guns. The twelve top-ranked teams are split into four groups of three.
Group A1: Germany, France, Netherlands
Group A2: Belgium, Switzerland, Iceland
Group A3: Portugal, Italy, Poland
Group A4: Spain, England, Croatia
League B – The next twelve, Including Ireland and Northern Ireland
Group B1: Slovakia, Ukraine, Czech Republic
Group B2: Russia, Sweden, Turkey
Group B3: Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Ireland
Group B4: Wales, Ireland, Denmark
League C – This group contains 15 teams in one pot of three teams and three pots of four.
Serbia, despite having topped Ireland’s World Cup qualifying group find themselves in Group C along with Euro 2004 Winners Greece.
Group C1: Scotland, Albania, Israel
Group C2: Hungary, Greece, Finland, Estonia
Group C3: Slovenia, Norway, Bulgaria, Cyprus
Group C4: Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Lithuania
Group D – The remaining sixteen UEFA teams. Essentially the minnows of the European game and Kazakhstan – which is certainly not in Europe, it’s capital Astana is closer to Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia than it is to Moscow!
Group D1: Georgia, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Andorra
Group D2: Belarus, Luxembourg, Moldova, San Marino
Group D3: Azerbaijan, Faroe Islands, Malta, Kosovo
Group D4: FYR Macedonia, Armenia, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar
There will be promotion and relegation from each of the leagues. So the bottom four teams from League A will be replaced by the four group winners from League B, the four last placed teams in Group B will be replaced by the group winners from League C and so on…
The top team from each of the groups will qualify for a mini-tournament to be played in March 2020 which offers a UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying spot for the winners. This is where things get a little bit complicated……
Only teams that have not qualified for the Euro 2020 tournament are eligible for this mini-tournament. The draw for the qualifiers of Euro 2020 will take place in Dublin’s Convention Centre on 2nd December and the 55 teams will be divided into ten groups – five groups of five teams and five groups of six teams. The seeding used for this draw will be based entirely on our ranking after our four Group B4 matches. The top two teams in each of these groups will qualify for Euro 2020 – That will account for 20 teams, 10 group winners and 10 group runners-up. The remaining four places will be awarded to the winners of the mini-tournament mentioned above. Each of the four Nations League groups A-D will be guaranteed a qualifying spot. If a team that has topped it’s Nations League group has already qualified via the conventional route, then the next highest ranked team in its league will be offered the spot in the mini-tournament. It’s similar to a repéchage in rowing – the best placed of those who failed to qualify will get a second bite at it.
So for argument’s sake if, hypothetically, Martin O’Neill’s team were to finish as runners-up behind Denmark in Group B4 and they failed to qualify for Euro 2020 via the qualifier route by finishing outside the top two in their group they then could be offered a spot in the mini-tournament against three other non-qualified teams.
The interesting thing about this system is that one of the four minnows from League D that top their groups will then win a spot to represent their League in the March mini-tournament.
Ireland’s Group B4 fixtures
6th September – Wales v Ireland
9th September – Denmark v Wales
13th October – Ireland v Denmark
16th October – Ireland v Wales
16th November – Wales v Denmark
19th November – Denmark v Ireland