When the UEFA Nations League was announced, it’s fair to say the competition wasn’t met with much optimism. The new concept was looked at as being over complicated and just another way for UEFA to schedule big matches and make some money. While the Nations league is certainly still complicated and it probably was a money making scheme, it’s receiving decent reviews and plenty of them will be coming from Scotland fans.
A 4-0 thrashing of Albania, followed by a James Forrest inspired 3-2 victory at Hampden against Israel on Tuesday night and everything is positive again for Scotland – well almost. The concept of the Nations League is certainly confusing, but for today we are just focusing on Scotland and how their triumph in League C Group One will affect them going forward.
First of all, Alex McLeish’s side will now gain promotion to League B. That means next time the Nations League rolls around again in 2020, they could be facing off against the likes of Germany and Croatia who were relegated from League A, as well as teams such as Russia and Wales who have remained in League B.
Finishing top of their group has also guaranteed Scotland effectively two opportunities to gain access to the 2020 European Championships. The Euro’s in 2020 will be held in cities across Europe, as opposed to the normal format of one or two host nations. Hampden Park will be playing host to some of these matches.
Firstly, Scotland will be drawn into a qualifying group of either five or six teams early next year. The Scots will have to play each side home and away, and if they manage to finish in the top two they’ll qualify directly for the Euro’s – great!
Of course, qualifying campaigns haven’t always gone that well for Scotland, so what’s the backup plan? Should Scotland not do so well in their group – they’ll have a better seeding due to their Nations League performance – then they’ll face other group C teams in a play-off.
Right now Scotland would face Finland in a two-legged semi-final, and then either Serbia or Norway in a one-legged final. This can change of course, because just like Scotland if any of those three teams qualify for the Euro’s directly through their qualifying group, they won’t compete in the play-off. That team would then be replaced by the next best-ranked side from League C. For example, if Serbia qualify through their qualifying group, going off of the current rankings, they’d give up their playoff spot to Bulgaria. If Norway also qualified, the Israel team that Scotland beat this week would also be invited into the playoff.
This is unless of course teams in these rankings have also already qualified, in which case teams from other leagues can be picked to come down or up into a playoff path to make up the numbers. Scotland should hopefully not have to worry about this though, League Champions are exempt from facing sides from other Leagues.
So now we’ve sorted through the mind scramble that is the route to the Euro’s and the Nations League, how are people reacting to it?
Well, Scotland’s results have received a mixed reaction. Of course, supporters are happy with the two wins and progression. However, there is still an overwhelming sense of many members of the Tartan Army feeling Alex McLeish fell upwards into these results. The long-term trust in the Scotland manager isn’t quite there.
The Nations League has received a lot of praise, which has, of course, come slightly out of nowhere. The tournament has produced some fantastic matches and drawn more interest to games that otherwise would have been throw away friendly matches. There is also plenty of positive reactions to the fact this new set-up allows smaller nations a passage into the Euro’s.
Overall, it’s a slightly more exciting time for international football. This is a world that comes alive during major tournaments but is seen as a hindrance and unwanted distraction from club football during an ongoing season. To an extent, this will not change, but international football certainly has a welcome new addition, and even Scotland is warming to it.