New route to European Championships opens up.
The Euro 2020 Qualifiers may not begin until 2019 but a route for Scotland to qualify for the tournament opens up even sooner, with the launch of the inaugural UEFA Nations League.
The new tournament complements the traditional qualification campaign. Euro 2020 will still see 24 teams take part in the tournament, which celebrates its 60th anniversary at the finals, spread across 13 cities, including Glasgow.
Twenty of those teams will come from the conventional European qualifying campaign, which will be played over seven months between March and November 2019. There will be ten groups of five or six teams with only the winners and runners-up in each group qualifying.
The other four sides will come through the newly-formed UEFA Nations League after navigating a group stage and playoffs.
What is the format of the UEFA Nations League?
In the first instance, the 55 European national teams will be divided into four leagues (A, B, C, D) in accordance with UEFA’s national association coefficient rankings (taken from 11 October 2017). League A includes the top-ranked sides such as Spain, Germany, France and England, while League D includes the lowest, for instance, Gibraltar, San Marino, Luxembourg and Andorra.
Each League will be sub-divided into four groups of three or four teams. In essence, teams will play other teams of a similar standard home between September and November 2018. The draw for the groups will be made on 24 January 2018, when the new UEFA Nations League trophy will also be unveiled.
Depending on the size of the group, teams will play four or six games but within dates already ring-fenced on the international match calendar. The countries in leagues of three will have two free match days in which they can play friendlies against non-European sides, or against other European teams who are also free.
The winners of groups B, C and D will gain promotion while those countries that finish bottom of A, B and C will be relegated. These standings will affect future qualification campaigns and rankings.
How could this affect Scotland?
The top team from each of the four sub-divided groups in each League that haven’t already qualified for the Euros will play a single leg semi-final, with the winners going on to contest the final between 26-31 March 2020.
Scotland have already been confirmed as top seeds in League C, where they could be drawn in a group with Serbia, Greece and Lithuania, for example. If Scotland were to top that group and then did not qualify for Euro 2020 through the conventional qualification campaign, they would then contest the Nations League playoff semi-finals against three other teams from League C. Should they win the League C playoffs, they would join the winners from League A, B and D in qualifying for Euro 2020.
If, however, Scotland finished in the top two of their five or six-team group in the conventional Euro qualifiers then they would no longer need to take part in the Nations League playoffs. Our playoff position would then be allocated to the next-best ranked team in League C.
If a League does not have four group winners to compete, the remaining slots are allocated to teams from another League that have not already qualified for that League’s playoffs. For example, if Scotland finished second in their Nations League group and League B required another team, they could be “promoted” to compete in the League B playoffs.
What if Scotland do not top their Nations League or finish in the top two of their Euro qualification group?
In this scenario all is not lost. It is still possible for Scotland to make it to Euro 2020 depending on results elsewhere. If the group winners in Scotland’s Nations League group had qualified for the Euros by finishing in the top two of their qualification group then Scotland would take their place in the Nations League play-off semi-finals.
What if Scotland are set to compete in the League C playoffs but League B does not have enough teams to make up their playoffs?
Scotland would still compete in the League C playoffs, while a lower ranked team in League C would be parachuted in to compete in the League B playoffs.
This rule avoids the potential scenario of a team being “punished” for doing well in their League. The group winners would not be asked to take part in a higher-ranked League’s playoffs, against potentially harder opposition.
Nations League Summary
To reiterate: the Nations League takes place first in 2018, then the conventional European qualifiers in 2019, followed by the Nations League playoffs in 2020 between those teams who won their groups in 2018.
The new format means that the bottom 16 European teams in the rankings are now guaranteed one of the 24 qualifying slots.