Everything Scotland fans need to know about the Uefa Nations League

France 1998 was a memorable time for Scotland as they took part in their sixth World Cup since 1974.

Tuesday, 4th September 2018, 1:24 pm
Updated Thursday, 6th September 2018, 12:25 pm

Few fans who followed the team would have thought it would be the last tournament Scotland would participate in for more than 20 years. By the time Euro 2020 begins it will be 22 long years.

The increased number of participants for the 2016 European Championship in France failed to aid Scotland. Now the Scots have been offered another route into a summer tournament.

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Scotland will begin their Uefa Nations League campaign on Monday. Picture: SNS/Alan Harvey
Scotland will begin their Uefa Nations League campaign on Monday. Picture: SNS/Alan Harvey

For the first time ever, European nations will take part in the Uefa Nations League - a competition devised by the continental governing body to add increased competitiveness to international fixtures. The new competition has confused and befuddled many, but it is a concept which is easy to grasp. Eventually.

We have provided the answers to the questions being asked.

So, what is the Nations League?

It is a sort of mix between the Champions League and now defunct Intertoto Cup, with the addition of promotion and relegation. That still sounds confusing, but is in fact quite exciting.

In essence, it has been introduced to largely replace those pesky friendly matches with more competitive games and, according to Uefa, “ensure the continued success of national team football”.

Games are competitive because they give nations a ‘second chance’ at qualifying for finals tournaments. More on that later...

How does it work?

All 55 Uefa member associations are divided into four leagues depending on their coefficient.

League A is made up of the 12 best ranked nations, while League D features the 16 lowest ranked nations. Within those leagues the nations are divided into four groups of three or four.

Scotland are in League C and have been placed in a group with Albania and Israel. They will play each other twice, home and away.

The winners of the groups in Leagues B, C and D will be promoted, while the bottom-placed sides in A, B and C will be relegated for the next edition.

A team’s positioning will determine if they are involved in the Nations League play-off if they fail to qualify via the normal European Qualifiers.

What are the groups?

League A

Group A1: Germany, France, Netherlands

Group A2: Belgium, Switzerland, Iceland

Group A3: Portugal, Italy, Poland

Group A4: Spain, England, Croatia

League B

Group B1: Slovakia, Ukraine, Czech Republic

Group B2: Russia, Sweden, Turkey

Group B3: Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Ireland

Group B4: Wales, Republic of Ireland, Denmark

League C

Group C1: SCOTLAND, Albania, Israel

Group C2: Hungary, Greece, Finland, Estonia

Group C3: Slovenia, Norway, Bulgaria, Cyprus

Group C4: Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Lithuania

League D

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

How does it affect Scotland’s qualification for tournaments?

Scotland won’t qualify directly for the 2020 European Championship via the Nations League. No team will.

Ten qualification groups will run as normal over ten matchdays between March 2019 and November 2019, after the Nations League.

The group winners and runners-up will qualify directly for the 2020 tournament, which is being staged around Europe. The four remaining slots are allocated to the winners of the Nations League play-offs.

How will the play-offs work?

Leagues A, B, C and D will each provide an entrant via the play-offs. The four group winners from each will enter the play-offs for their respective league.

However, if the group winners have already qualified via the European Qualifiers, their slot will go to the next best-ranked team(s) within the league who have not qualified. There is a waterfall mechanism in play so slots are awarded to lower leagues if less than four teams remain available for a play-off qualification.

At the end there will be play-off winner from each of the four leagues, to bring the tournament up to 24 teams.

Does this mean there will be a low-ranked team at the tournament in 2020?

Most definitely. At least one side from League D will be there via the play-offs. That could be the Faroe Islands, Andorra or even Gibraltar.

What is the format for the play-offs?

In the semi-finals, the best-ranked team will play the fourth best-ranked team from their respective league, and the second will play third.

The semi-final will take place at the home of the highest-ranked team, while the final will be drawn in advance.

When does it all start?

The Nations League is played over six dates in September, October and November 2018. The first round of games run from Thursday, September 6 through to Tuesday, September 11. Scotland get underway on Monday, September 10.

The normal European Qualifiers are played over ten dates, between March and November 2019.

The Nations League play-offs take place in March 2020, meaning the final four teams only confirm their place three months before the tournament starts.

Is there a Nations League ‘winner’?

There is! The four group winners in League A will play in a knock-out tournament in June 2019 to determine the winners.

There are two semi-finals then a final which will produce the winner of the inaugural Nations League.

Why is there promotion and relegation?

This isn’t a one-off. The Nations League will return in the 2020-2021 season ahead of the 2022 World Cup. So the group will change with the promotion and relegation.

What does it all mean for Scotland?

Alex McLeish’s men should concentrate on finishing top of their group then switch their focus to the European Championship qualifiers.

Ideally, Scotland will finish in the top two places of their qualifying group. That will mean they qualify directly for the tournament. But if they were to finish third or worse then because they have won their Nations League group they are given a second chance.

They could potentially face Norway and Serbia or Lithuania and Estonia.

Winning the Nations League also builds confidence and momentum for the qualifiers starting next year.

This copy has been adapted from an article which appeared on sister title the i.