The Eejits Guide To The UEFA Nations League

Football

ByTheMinEurope

Starting this Thursday there's a brand new addition to the ever increasing football schedule. Yes, it's only the bloody UEFA Nations League folks! But what is it all about? How will it affect my withdrawl from club football during the annoying international break? And will it mean that Scotland FINALLY qualify for an actual proper tournament? All those questions and more will be answered over the course of this blog. Starting with what the hell is a Nations League?!

WHAT IS THE UEFA NATIONS LEAGUE WHEN IT'S AT HOME? Basically it's a new international competition for UEFA countries that will mean there's not as many pointless friendlies getting played over the course of a year. It's apparently been in UEFA's flipchart of ideas since 2011 but the first contest has taken until now to take place. It's a mixture between a league format (with added promotion and relegation!) and a group stage format with even a knockout phase, proper trophy to be won and (probably most excitingly) the very realistic chance to qualify for the Euros in 2020. Even if you lose every single one of your European Championship qualifying matches!

HOW DO THESE FORMATS COMBINE? Let's start at the very beginning. It's a very good place to start, according to some Nazi hating singer from a 60s film... There's 55 associations in UEFA and each of them has a place in the Nations League. They've been ranked into 4 leagues depending on their UEFA ranking at the end of the World Cup 2018 qualifiers. These differ from the FIFA World Rankings as they take into consideration the last 5 years of international results. Which is kinda good news for the likes of Holland as they get a place in League A , when they really should be in League B for the pish they've put out recently... Once into these 4 leagues (A, B, C and D), they were drawn into 4 groups comprising of either 3 or 4 teams. The full draw can be seen below so you can start to plot whether you want to watch Germany v France or Kosovo v Malta on an autumnal evening. League A draw Group 1: Germany, France, Netherlands Group 2: Belgium, Switzerland, Iceland Group 3: Portugal, Italy, Poland Group 4: Spain, England, Croatia League B draw Group 1: Slovakia, Ukraine, Czech Republic Group 2: Russia, Sweden, Turkey Group 3: Austria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Northern Ireland Group 4: Wales, Republic of Ireland, Denmark League C draw Group 1: Scotland, Albania, Israel Group 2: Hungary, Greece, Finland, Estonia Group 3: Slovenia, Norway, Bulgaria, Cyprus Group 4: Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Lithuania League D draw Group 1: Georgia, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Andorra Group 2: Belarus, Luxembourg, Moldova, San Marino Group 3: Azerbaijan, Faroe Islands, Malta, Kosovo Group 4: FYR Macedonia, Armenia, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar

SO TEAMS INTO LEAGUES, LEAGUES INTO GROUPS - BUT WHEN DO THEY PLAY? Very soon. This coming Thursday is when it all kicks off when Kazakhstan and Georgia go head-to-head. For once it's not even a long drawn process as the group stage is all done and dusted by mid-November of this year. The full list of fixture dates is... Matchday 1: September 6-9, 2018 Matchday 2: September 9-11, 2018 Matchday 3: October 11-13, 2018 Matchday 4: October 14-16, 2018 Matchday 5: November 15-17, 2018 Matchday 6: November 18-20, 2018 However, there are still some more matches to play in the inaugural Nations League. More about that in the next box.

THERE'S STILL MORE TO PLAY AFTER THE GROUP STAGE? I TAKE IT THAT'S FOR THE TROPHY YOU MENTIONED EARLIER? Indeed. Between June 5th and 9th next summer, the four group winners from League A will battle it out in two semi-finals and a final to crown the first UEFA Nations League winner. It'll rank alongside the Intertoto Cup as the most mighty European trophy in the winner's cabinet. Maybe.... This "Final Four" section of the tournament will take place EVERY odd year (yes, every!) so whenever there's not a World Cup or Euros happening there'll be another Nations League final for you to miss because you can't be arsed watching.

WHERE DOES THE PROMOTION AND RELEGATION FIT IN? The bottom teams in each group in Leagues A, B and C will be relegation to the next league down from them for the next tournament in autumn 2020. The top teams in each group in Leagues B, C and D will be promoted to the next league up from them for that same tournament in autumn 2020. Pretty simple stuff really. 4 up. 4 down. Cue more crying fans in the stands!

AND WHAT ABOUT THIS EURO 2020 PLAY OFF MALARKEY? This, for me, is where the Nations League really gets exciting. Forget promotion/relegation. Forget the trophy. You can actually get a place at the next Euros even if you lose all your actual qualifying matches. That's because in every single Nations League league (the A, B, C and D leagues above) gets four play-off places. These come into action for teams who don't qualify through the traditional Euro qualifying route. That route (the Euros Qualifying one - different from the Nations League - keep up!) has been simplified so that there's five groups of 5 teams and 5 groups of 6 teams. The top two automatically book their place at the Euros. The play-off places then go to the winners of the Nations League groups (or if they have already qualified in the Euro qualifiers - top two remember! - then the next best team which has not qualified from their league. That's quite wordy, eh? Here's it simplified... Fast forward to the Autumn of 2019. Scotland have failed miserably to qualify from their group after their latest, but greatest, glorious failure to finish in the top two of their Euro Qualifying group. They finish 4th behind France, Slovakia and some Norwegian pop band. Normally this would bring angry saltire-clad voices onto the Daily Record Hotline. BUT NOT THIS TIME MOTHERFUCKERS!!! Because, in the Nations League, Scotland did remarkably well and topped their three team group with Albania and Israel. So, as a result we're in the playoffs! BELTER!

SO IF WE TOP OUR GROUP (or come next best to a team who already qualify) HOW DOES THE PLAYOFF MATCHES WORK? They take place on the dates just below... UEFA EURO 2020 play-off draw: November 22, 2019 UEFA EURO 2020 play-offs: March 26-31, 2020 But, wait for this. Each Nations League league has it's own playoff route. The 16 playoff teams are NOT seeded. There's not even an open draw among all 16 teams. League A (which will probably have some 'best of the rests' from League B) will have a route. Same with B, C and even D! So that means that at least one of Georgia, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Andorra, Belarus, Luxembourg, Moldova, San Marino, Azerbaijan, Faroe Islands, Malta, Kosovo, FYR Macedonia, Armenia, Liechtenstein or Gibraltar WILL be at Euro 2020. That's pretty cool, eh? The playoffs schedule is played over one two-legged semi final before a single game final playoff to determine which team gets one of the final four Euro 2020 places (20 teams from regular qualifying + 4 Nations League playoff winners = 24 teams!) It also means that Scotland's playoff game (if it comes to it) will be against one of the teams in League C (although they could face a League B team depending on how the 'best of the rest' part works). That'll be figured out by the UEFA boffins in due course though.

RIGHT, I THINK I'VE GOT IT NOW. RANKINGS INTO LEAGUES, LEAGUE INTO GROUPS, TOP GOES UP, BOTTOM GOES DOWN, TOP FOUR IN LEAGUE A INTO TROPHY CONTENTION, TOP OF EVERY GROUP GUARANTEED AT LEAST A PLAYOFF PLACE AND A SHITE TEAM LIKE GIBRALTAR WILL BE AT THE EUROS? You've got it now! There'll still be some friendlies from time to time, especially for those teams in 3 team Nations League groups. But most of the time UEFA teams will play against similarly ranked nations for the next wee while. Every game will be on Sky Sports so you better get the money out to Mr Murdoch if you want to watch this all unfold. If you've any questions or comments to make about the Nations League, do leave us a message below. It could well be a lot of fun - or a total waste of time and replaced by the UEFA INTERNATIONAL SOCCERBALL TROPHY contest by 2023.