Following a strong finish to their World Cup qualifying campaign, Ireland have been drawn alongside Wales and Northern Ireland in League B of the newly-created UEFA Nations League.
The Nations League splits UEFA’s 55 member nations into four separate leagues, each based on national coefficient. This means that the European big-hitters such as France and Germany will occupy League A, with Ireland in the second-tier League B, League C contains teams such as Scotland and Serbia, and League D being reserved for Europe’s traditional whipping boys such as San Marino and Andorra.
There are 12 teams in each of League A and B, with League C having 15 teams and League D having 16 teams.
In Ireland’s case, League B will be split into four groups of three, where teams play each other home and away. Finishing top of a group leads to promotion to League A, whereas finishing bottom leads to relegation to League C.
It is possible that Ireland could be drawn alongside Wales and Northern Ireland in a group when the draw is made in January 2018.
The Nations League is set to replace the majority of friendly matches, offering a competitive competition which acts as a backdoor route into EURO 2020 for one team per league. The four best ranked teams from each league who have failed to already qualify for Euro 2020 will face a single legged semi final and final for one last chance to qualify for the tournament.
This new backdoor entry replaces the route Ireland took to EURO 2016, where they finished third in their group and advanced to the finals via playoff victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Regular EURO 2020 qualification will commence at the beginning of 2019, where the top two teams in each group will automatically qualify for the pan-European championships. Teams that don’t finish in the top two must hope their Nations League position enables them to face-off in a playoff against three other nations in their respective league.
The reason for change was to offer a competitive alternative to the drudgery of friendly internationals. Furthermore, it also allows Europe’s big teams to face off with each other in lucrative ties which will generate income.
By Sean Meehan