UEFA Nations League: What is it and what does it mean for us?

Tomorrow will see the draw for the first every UEFA Nations League competition. The competition is intended as a competitive alternative to international friendlies and will involve all 55 of the current UEFA members.

The 55 teams will be split into 4 divisions: A, B, C and D. For the inaugural competition, countries are divided into divisions based on their current UEFA coefficient, meaning countries will face similarly ranked teams. The highest ranked teams are in Division A going down to the lowest ranked teams in Division D. Each division has 4 groups of either 3 or 4 teams who will play each other home and away.

After the fixtures, the team that finished top of groups in Divisions B, C or D will win promotion to the division above. Teams finishing bottom of groups in Divisions A, B or C will be relegated to the division below. Winners of Division A groups will progress to a semi-final, third place play-off and final to take place in the June of the following year.

Because of the expanded 20-team Euro 2020 competition, the first UEFA Nations League competition will offer an additional 4 qualification spots for Euro 2020. Each Division will have four teams progress to a play-off for an additional place in the Euro 2020 competition. This will be based on the four highest ranked teams from each Division who have NOT already qualified for the European Championship competition.

Who could Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland draw?

Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland have both been placed into Division B. Each Division has been divided into Pots for the purposes of the draw with Republic of Ireland in Pot 2 and Northern Ireland in Pot 3. Four groups of three teams will be drawn from the pots as follows:

Pot 1: Austria, Wales, Russia, Slovakia
Pot 2: Sweden, Ukraine, Republic of Ireland, Bosnia-Herzegovina
Pot 3: Northern Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Turkey

The Northern Ireland Perspective

Henry Muldrew, Northern Ireland fan and writer for That Football Daily, gave me his thoughts on the draw:

Whilst the European Nations League is more than complicated I can understand the sense in trying to make international friendly dates more appealing and we should applaud the powers for that. The worry amongst fans Is that smaller nations could be minimalised even further a la clubs in Europe like our own as UEFA make the big bigger and the small smaller. That said we have no choice to run with it. Since they count towards Euro ‘20 they matter.

For NI at the time of writing everything is coloured by the manager and his staying or not and thereafter subsequent players. The summer tour will be a hinge between old and new teams perhaps. For matters away from Football, I hope to avoid the ROI as the media cannot handle such issues and the match can become a sideshow. Closer to football I prefer to avoid British teams as they just become British derbies. That said  I do believe Wales are weaker though a new manager bounce is something to avoid if we can though the same might be said of ourselves shortly.

I would be happy with any of Ukraine, Austria or Bosnia – Herzegovina.

The Republic of Ireland Perspective

I asked Ireland fan Paul Burns for his thoughts on the competition and who he would like in the draw:

“I like the idea of the competition, I think more competitive games will make for a lot more interest toward the international game. In particular, for the smaller nations (San Marino, Andorra etc) will give them a good opportunity to play in games where they have a chance of a win or draw rather than being the usual whipping boys.

For ourselves, it’s a good opportunity for another qualifying route for the European championships if those qualifiers don’t go to plan.

In terms of the draw, for the best chance of qualifying, I would like Slovakia and Czech Republic, I think these would also be decent away trips. hoping to avoid N.I purely down to the reason getting a ticket for Windsor would be mayhem, although they would make for a fantastic atmosphere. I hope the players will show up for these games and not treat them as meaningless as the fans won’t be looking at them in that way.

All the teams we can draw are very evenly matched, so it will make for interesting matchups whatever the draw. I look forward to the draw more so now as we were dumped out of the world cup embarrassingly. The sooner we are back playing internationals the sooner we can banish that thumping in Denmark. A team who we could draw again. Hopefully not.”

Matches for the 2018/19 UEFA Nations League will take place across September, October and November 2018 with the finals taking place in June 2019.

Divisions A, C and D are populated as below:
Division A: Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, France, England, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, Iceland, Croatia, Netherlands
Division C: Hungary, Romania, Scotland, Slovenia, Greece, Serbia, Albania, Norway, Montenegro, Israel, Bulgaria, Finland, Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania
Division D: Azerbaijan, FYR Macedonia, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Latvia, Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Liechtenstein, Malta, Andorra, Kosovo, San Marino, Gibraltar

About the Author

Matt McKay
Glentoran and Northern Ireland fan.