We have all your UEFA Nations League questions covered ahead of next week’s draw.
I hear the big draw is coming up for the Republic of Ireland – so who can we be pulled out of the hat against at the World Cup this summer in Russia?
Ah, you seem to have wiped from your memory Ireland’s defeat in the World Cup playoff against Denmark - we don’t really blame you. The World Cup draw has been made without Ireland, this article is about the UEFA Nations League – that draw takes place next week on on Wednesday 24 January. Technically we could end up playing in Russia but it would be part of this new UEFA Nations League competition.
Oh, okay. So fill me in please on all things UEFA Nations League?
The 55 countries in UEFA have been split according to their international rankings into four leagues (A, B, C and D), with each league having four groups. It is the draw for these groups that is taking place next week at the Swiss Tech Centre in Lausanne.
Can Ireland add the UEFA Nations League to our other competition wins like that Icelandic Triangular competition in 1986 and our famous Carling Nations Cup victory?
Actually no. Only the teams in the top league (League A) can qualify for the UEFA Nations League Finals competition scheduled for June 2019.
Which league is Ireland in?
We are in League B, the second highest of the four leagues, which is split into four groups of three teams.
Who are our prospective opponents?
In the upcoming draw Ireland are in Pot 2 along with Sweden, Ukraine plus Bosnia-Herzegovina and so we can’t play any of those teams. We will be drawn in a group of three teams against an opponent from Pot 1, containing Austria, Wales, Russia and Slovakia, and one team from Pot 3 which will hold Northern Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic and Turkey.
So could Russia end up playing against Ukraine?
No. The UEFA Executive Committee (which includes John Delaney) decided that Russia and Ukraine cannot be drawn in the same group.
When will the games take place?
The Republic of Ireland will play home and away across four of the six double header matchdays later this year in September, October and November. Two dates will be blank as some groups in League C and D are made up of four teams rather than the three team groups used in League A and B.
The group winners in League B will be promoted to League A, while the bottom sides in each group from League B will be relegated to League C for the next competition to be played in 2020.
I heard something about the UEFA Nations League had something to do with EURO 2020?
Well firstly the main route for qualifying for the Euros will remain the European Qualifiers which run from March to November 2019. The top two in each of the ten qualifying groups will automatically make the tournament.
The rankings from the Nations League will determine the seedings for those European Qualifiers. However, rather than have the third placed teams enter a play-off (the route Ireland took to EURO 2016), the last four places will be allocated through the UEFA Nations League.
So how exactly do those UEFA Nations League play-offs for EURO 2020 qualification work?
The group winners in each of the four leagues will take part in the March 2020 play-off for those last four places at the European Championship. However, if any group winners have already qualified through the European Qualifiers, then their play-off position will be allocated to the next best-ranked team of the league in question, taking into account the global ranking within the league, and then if necessary to the following league in decreasing order, taking into consideration the global ranking of the relevant league.
16 sides will take part in those play-offs, to allocate the final four places for the Euros, with a EURO 2020 place available for one team from each of the four leagues.
Looking at League B as an example, the four group winners or the next highest ranked teams in League B that do not qualify for EURO 2020 will enter a March 2020 four team play-off. These will take place after the European Qualifiers are complete with one final place on offer for League B teams via a single leg semi-final (the better ranked team based on their performance in the Nations League will host that semi). There will then be a single-leg final with the host decided by a draw. It is a similar format for the other three League play-off positions.
But hang on are we not hosting EURO 2020 and so are we not already automatically qualified for that?
Dublin will host three group matches and one last 16 match but Ireland must go through the qualification process for the Euros. Should we make it, we will play two of our three group games at the Aviva. Dublin has been twinned with Bilbao for those finals so if Ireland qualify we will be in the same group as Spain should they make the finals.