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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Explainer: the Uefa Nations League, how it works and fixtures in UAE time

The National tries to make sense of the minefield that also includes qualification for Euro 2020

France's Hugo Lloris kisses the trophy as they celebrate after winning the World Cup. Reuters
France's Hugo Lloris kisses the trophy as they celebrate after winning the World Cup. Reuters

Uefa's newest international football tournament - the Nations League - begins on Thursday with many fans wondering what it's all about.

The tournament is an attempt by European football's governing body to address the amount of meaningless friendlies that would often pair together minnows against the continent's elite in lopsided affairs in the middle of domestic seasons.

It is also meant to sate the appetite of football fans dreading a non-tournament summer in between World Cups and European Championships as well as offer some nations who do not qualify for Euro 2020 via the normal route a path to the play-offs.

The idea that international managers will need to pick competitive squads for competitive matches, instead of making wholesale changes for second half of international friendlies where the results matter little, is not necessarily a bad one, although clubs have been less than enthused by it. The thought of players in competitive action for their country so soon after the World Cup might have something to do with it, but the thought of say, England, taking on a powerhouse like Spain and Croatia with something at stake rather than a friendly against Gibraltar that doesn't, should keep fans interested.

Another gripe among club bosses is that it means extra games on the international calendar. It doesn't. Nations League matches only replace aforementioned meaningless friendlies.

The National explains everything you need to know about the tournament, how it works, key dates and the ramifications for the Euro 2020 play-off system.

How it works

All European countries have been seeded in four pots according to their coefficient ranking, not their Fifa one (don't ask). There are 55 teams taking part, so a fair few fixtures to work through. France, the world champions, are in League A alongside Croatia, whom they vanquished in July's World Cup final in Moscow, along with semi-finalists in Russia Belgium and England. Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Poland and Iceland - who also played at this summer's World Cup - are also included, alongside traditional European powerhouses Italy and Netherlands, both of whom failed to qualify for Russia.

See the panel on the left for Leagues B, C and D.

How the leagues are configured

Leagues A and B will consist of four groups of three teams who will play each other home and away.

League C will feature one group of three teams and three groups of four teams. The teams play each other home and away.

League D is made up of four groups of four teams playing each other home and away.

Each league has a path of its own, and will consist of two single-leg semi-finals and a one-off final.

The Uefa Nations League is designed to eradicate meaningless friendlies, according to Uefa. Reuters 
The Uefa Nations League is designed to eradicate meaningless friendlies, according to Uefa. Reuters 

What happens in League A?

Winners of the mini-groups of three in League A will compete in June 2019 semi-finals and ultimately the final on June 9 for the Nations League trophy.

League A groups:

  • Group A1: Germany, France, Netherlands
  • Group A2: Belgium, Switzerland, Iceland
  • Group A3: Portugal, Italy, Poland
  • Group A4: Spain, England, Croatia

Teams that finish at the bottom of League A are relegated to League B.

What happens to Leagues B, C and D?

They are all competing for promotion and relegation, so winners of Group B, which on paper could look like Ukraine, Russia, Northern Ireland and Denmark, would play for the chance to take on the top nations next year.

League B groups

  • 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 groups

  • 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 groups

  • 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

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Will there still be a regular qualifying campaign for Euro 2020?

Yes. The Euro 2020 qualification draw takes place in Dublin in December with all the matches due to be played between March and November 2019.

The top two teams from 10 groups will automatically qualify for the finals. That will account for 20 of the finalists. The final four places are where the Nations League comes in again.

So how does the Nations League impact on qualification for Euro 2020?

According to Uefa's website, the equation for qualifying for Euro 2020 is now "simple", although that's debatable.

Yes. The four group winners from each league - A, B, C and D, so 16 teams in all - will play off in March 2020 in a bid to secure one of the four remaining places. The format will be one-off play-off semi-finals, followed by a final, per league, with the winning team from each of leagues A, B, C and D taking the last four spots at the Euros.

If a country has already qualified by the conventional route, their place will go to the next highest-ranked team from their respective Nations League tier.

Confused? Us too. But it should be fun trying to figure it out.

Nations League fixtures (all times UAE):

Matchday 1:

September 6, 2018

  • Group A1: Germany v France (10.45pm)
  • Group B1: Czech Republic v Ukraine (10.45pm)
  • Group B4: Wales v Republic of Ireland (10.45pm)
  • Group C3: Slovenia v Bulgaria (10.45pm)
  • Group C3: Norway v Cyprus (10.45pm)
  • Group D1: Kazakhstan v Georgia (6pm)
  • Group D1: Latvia v Andorra (10.45pm)
  • Group D4: Armenia v Liechtenstein (8pm)
  • Gibraltar v FYR Macedonia (10.45pm)

Friday, September 7

  • Group A3: Italy v Poland (10.45pm)
  • Group B2: Turkey v Russia (10.45pm)
  • Group C1: Albania v Israel (10.45pm)
  • Group C4: Lithuania v Serbia (10.45pm)
  • Group C4: Romania v Montenegro (10.45pm)
  • Group D3: Azerbaijan v Kosovo (8pm)
  • Group D3: Faroe Islands v Malta (10.45pm)

Saturday, September 8

  • Group A2: Switzerland v Iceland (8pm)
  • Group A4: England v Spain (10.45pm)
  • Group B3: Northern Ireland v Bosnia and Herzegovina (5pm)
  • Group C2: Finland v Hungary (8pm)
  • Group C2: Estonia v Greece (10.45pm)
  • Group D2: Belarus v San Marino (8pm)
  • Group D2: Luxembourg v Moldova (10.45pm)

Matchday 2:

Sunday, September 9

  • Group A1: France v Netherlands (10.45pm)
  • Group B1: Ukraine v Slovakia (5pm)
  • Group B4: Denmark v Wales (8pm)
  • Group C3: Bulgaria v Norway (8pm)
  • Group C3: Cyprus v Slovenia (10.45pm)
  • Group D1: Georgia v Latvia (8pm)
  • Group D4: FYR Macedonia v Armenia (8pm)
  • Group D4: Liechtenstein v Gibraltar (10.45pm)

Monday, September 10

  • Group A3: Portugal v Italy (10.45pm)
  • Group B2: Sweden v Turkey (10.45pm)
  • Group C1: Scotland v Albania (10.45pm)
  • Group C4: Serbia v Romania (10.45pm)
  • Group C4: Montenegro v Lithuania (10.45pm)
  • Group D1: Andorra v Kazakhstan (10.45pm)
  • Group D3: Kosovo v Faroe Islands (10.45pm)
  • Group D3: Malta v Azerbaijan (10.45pm)

Tuesday, September 11

  • Group A2: Iceland v Belgium (10.45pm)
  • Group A4: Spain v Croatia (10.45pm)
  • Group B3: Bosnia and Herzegovina v Austria (10.45pm)
  • Group C2: Hungary v Greece (10.45pm)
  • Group C2: Finland v Estonia (10.45pm)
  • Group D2: San Marino v Luxembourg (10.45pm)
  • Group D2: Moldova v Belarus (10.45pm)

Matchday 3:

Thursday, October 11

  • Group A3: Poland v Portugal (10.45pm)
  • Group B2: Russia v Sweden (10.45pm)
  • Group C1: Israel v Scotland (10.45pm)
  • Group C4: Lithuania v Romania (10.45pm)
  • Group C4: Montenegro v Serbia (10.45pm)
  • Group D3: Faroe Islands v Azerbaijan (10.45pm)
  • Group D3: Kosovo v Malta (10.45pm)

Friday, October 12

  • Group A2: Belgium v Switzerland (10.45pm)
  • Group A4: Croatia v England (10.45pm)
  • Group B3: Austria v Northern Ireland (10.45pm)
  • Group C2: Greece v Hungary (10.45pm)
  • Group C2: Estonia v Finland (10.45pm)
  • Group D2: Belarus v Luxembourg (10.45pm)
  • Group D2: Moldova v San Marino (10.45pm)

Saturday, October 13

  • Group A1: Netherlands v Germany (10.45pm)
  • Group B1: Slovakia v Czech Republic (5pm)
  • Group B4: Republic of Ireland v Denmark (10.45pm)
  • Group C3: Norway v Slovenia (8pm)
  • Group C3: Bulgaria v Cyprus (10.45pm)
  • Group D1: Georgia v Andorra (8pm)
  • Group D1: Latvia v Kazakhstan (8pm)
  • Group D4: Armenia v Gibraltar (8pm)
  • Group D4: FYR Macedonia v Liechtenstein (10.45pm)

Matchday 4:

Sunday, October 14

  • Group A3: Poland v Italy (10.45pm)
  • Group B2: Russia v Turkey (8pm)
  • Group C1: Israel v Albania (10.45pm)
  • Group C4: Romania v Serbia (5pm)
  • Group C4: Lithuania v Montenegro (10.45pm)
  • Group D3: Azerbaijan v Malta (8pm)
  • Group D3: Faroe Islands v Kosovo (8pm)

Monday, October 15

  • Group A2: Iceland v Switzerland (10.45pm)
  • Group A4: Spain v England (10.45pm)
  • Group B3: Bosnia and Herzegovina v Northern Ireland (10.45pm)
  • Group C2: Estonia v Hungary (10.45pm)
  • Group C2: Finland v Greece (10.45pm)
  • Group D2: Belarus v Moldova (10.45pm)
  • Group D2: Luxembourg v San Marino (10.45pm)

Tuesday, October 16

  • Group A1: France v Germany (10.45pm)
  • Group B1: Ukraine v Czech Republic (10.45pm)
  • Group B4: Republic of Ireland v Wales (10.45pm)
  • Group C3: Norway v Bulgaria (10.45pm)
  • Group C3: Slovenia v Cyprus (10.45pm)
  • Group D1: Kazakhstan v Andorra (6pm)
  • Group D1: Latvia v Georgia (10.45pm)
  • Group D4: Armenia v FYR Macedonia (8pm)
  • Group D4: Gibraltar v Liechtenstein (10.45pm)

Matchday 5:

Thursday, November 15

  • Group A2: Belgium v Iceland (11.45pm)
  • Group A4: Croatia v Spain (11.45pm)
  • Group B3: Austria v Bosnia and Herzegovina (11.45pm)
  • Group C2: Greece v Finland (11.45pm)
  • Group C2: Hungary v Estonia (11.45pm)
  • Group D1: Kazakhstan v Latvia (7pm)
  • Group D1: Andorra v Georgia (11.45pm)
  • Group D2: San Marino v Moldova (11.45pm)
  • Group D2: Luxembourg v Belarus (11.45pm)

Friday, November 16

  • Group A1: Netherlands v France (11.45pm)
  • Group B1: Slovakia v Ukraine (11.45pm)
  • Group B4: Wales v Denmark (11.45pm)
  • Group C3: Cyprus v Bulgaria (11.45pm)
  • Group C3: Slovenia v Norway (11.45pm)
  • Group D4: Liechtenstein v FYR Macedonia (11.45pm)
  • Group D4: Gibraltar v Armenia (11.45pm)

Saturday, November 17

  • Group A3: Italy v Portugal (11.45pm)
  • Group B2: Turkey v Sweden (9pm)
  • Group C1: Albania v Scotland (11.45pm)
  • Group C4: Serbia v Montenegro (6pm)
  • Group C4: Romania v Lithuania (11.45pm)
  • Group D3: Azerbaijan v Faroe Islands (9pm)
  • Group D: Malta v Kosovo (9pm)

Matchday 6:

Sunday, November 18

  • Group A2: Switzerland v Belgium (11.45pm)
  • Group A4: England v Croatia (6pm)
  • Group B3: Northern Ireland v Austria (9pm)
  • Group C2: Hungary v Finland (11.45pm)
  • Group C2: Greece v Estonia (11.45pm)
  • Group D2: San Marino v Belarus (9pm)
  • Group D2: Moldova v Luxembourg (9pm)

Monday, November 19

  • Group A1: Germany v Netherlands (11.45pm)
  • Group B1: Czech Republic v Slovakia (11.45pm)
  • Group B4: Denmark v Republic of Ireland (11.45pm)
  • Group C3: Cyprus v Norway (11.45pm)
  • Group C3: Bulgaria v Slovenia (11.45pm)
  • Group D1: Andorra v Latvia (9pm)
  • Group D1: Georgia v Kazakhstan (9pm)
  • Group D4: Liechtenstein v Armenia (11.45pm)
  • Group D4: FYR Macedonia v Gibraltar (11.45pm)

Tuesday, November 20

  • Group A3: Portugal v Poland (11.45pm)
  • Group B2: Sweden v Russia (11.45pm)
  • Group C1: Scotland v Israel (11.45pm)
  • Group C4: Serbia v Lithuania (11.45pm)
  • Group C4: Montenegro v Romania (11.45pm)
  • Group D3: Kosovo v Azerbaijan (9pm)
  • Group D3: Malta v Faroe Islands (9pm)

Other key dates

  • Finals draw: December 2
  • Finals (including semi-finals and third-placed game): June 5–9, 2019
  • Euro 2020 play-off draw: November 22, 2019
  • Euro 2020 play-offs: March 26–31, 2020