The UEFA Nations League will start in September 2018. Whilst it’s one of Platini’s mad ideas, it’s an interesting concept, and in my view, better than playing meaningless friendlies. Instead, nations will be playing against those of a similar level, thus games should be more even.
I don’t really want to get into the intracacies of the overall qualification process – you’d be better off watching this video. In summary, 24 teams will qualify for Euro 2020, of which there will be;
- 20 from the regular qualification process (March 2019 to November 2019)
- 4 from the UEFA Nations League (September 2018 to November 2019, with play-offs in March 2020)
Whilst this system gives the stronger nations (i.e. those in Division A) a convenient backup should they fail to qualify via the regular process (i.e Netherlands in Euro2016), which less face it, is all about TV revenue. On the flip side, it provides a fantastic opportunity for those in Divsions C and D, as at least one team from each divsion will be guaranteed a place at Euro 2020.
SCOTLAND’S POTENTIAL OPPONENTS AND VENUES
Based on the UEFA rankings, Scotland will be one of 15 nations in Division C. This division largely consists of those who’ve made sporadic appearances at recent major finals, in addition to those who have narrowly missed out via the play-offs. The majority of teams in this division will fancy their chances at winning their respective groups, although the Pot 4 teams are likely to struggle to make an impact.
Division C will have 3 groups of 4 and 1 group of 3, in which teams will play each other home and away. Thanks to an excellent run of results in 2017, we are in pot 1 and will avoid being drawn against Hungary, Romania, and Slovenia. The draw for the Nations League group stage is scheduled to take place at the SwissTech Convention Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, on the 24 January 2018.
Here are a list of our potential opponents and likely venues;
- Pot 1: Hungary, Romania, SCOTLAND, Slovenia
- Pot 2: Greece, Serbia, Albania, Norway
- Pot 3: Montenegro, Israel, Bulgaria, Finland
- Pot 4: Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania
Greece have made it to five of the last seven tournaments, and won Euro 2004 after beating Portugal in the final. They’ve even managed to sneak into the play-offs for Russia 2018. It’s been 22 years since we played Greece, so it’s probably about time we played them again.
Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus, Athens (capacity 32,115)
Last game: a 1-0 victory at Hampden on 16th August 1995
This is probably the one to avoid in Division C as they won their WC2018 qualification group, and have a low ranking thanks to poor performances during previous qualification campaigns. I had been looking forward to spending some time in Belgrade for the WC qualifier in 2013 until the game was announced for Novi Sad. I did manage a weekend break here in December 2017, and is an excellent place to visit for a few days.
Stadion Rajko Mitić, Red Star Stadium, Belgrade (capacity 55,538)
Last game: A 2-0 defeat in Novi Sad on 26th March 2013
Albania’s first appearance at a major championship was Euro 2016, having claimed an unlikely away win against Portugal during qualification. They were handed a tough group for 2018 qualification with both Spain and Italy, finishing 3rd in the process. There aren’t too many flights to Albania, and it’s not the easiest country to travel around, so could be an interesting trip from a logistics point of view.
Loro Boriçi Stadium, Shkodër, 16,022
(Whilst this seems to be their preferred option, Kosovo are also using this Stadium)
Elbasan Arena, Elbasan, 12,800
Last game: never played
I’m sure the majority of the fans would prefer to avoid one of Europe’s most expensive destinations, despite Norway being relatively poor from a football point of view.
Ullevaal Stadion, Oslo (capacity 28,000)
Last game: a 1-0 victory in Molde on 19th November 2013
Montenegro have only been playing football as an independent nation since 2007, following independence from Serbia the previous year. Their only appearance at a major finals was in 2010. Another tricky country to get to, and Podgorica isn’t the most exciting place to spend a few days, however the coastal areas and mountains are stunning.
City Stadium, Podgorica (capacity 15,230)
Last game: never played
We’ve not played Israel for 31 years, so they are one of the nations that we’re well overdue a game against. As they play their games in two reasonably large stadia, we’d be guaranteed a reasonable amount of tickets. Perhaps not the easiest place to get to – and there could be a few interesting overland routes from neighbouring countries.
Sammy Ofer Stadium, Haifa (capacity 30,870)
Teddy Stadium, Jerusalem (capacity 32,700)
Last game: a 1-0 victory in Tel Aviv on the 28 January 1986
Bulgaria are somewhat similar to Scotland, having spent recent years as a Pot 3 or Pot 4 team, so it’s no surprise we’ve not played them competitively for a while. Our famous 5-1 victory over them was incredibly helpful in winning the Kirin Cup back in 2006. From a travelling perspective, this would be a good trip with plenty of away tickets in a very affordable city.
Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia (capacity 43,230)
Last game: A 5-1 victory in the Kirin cup on the 11th May 2006
Unfortunately the Olmypic Stadium in Helsinki is currently being re-developed, with all games from the 2018 WC Qualification taking place in either Turku or Tampere. This arrangement will continue until 2019. Both cities are situated around 150 km from Helsinki, although tickets could be rather scarce.
Veritas Stadion, Turku, (capacity 8,072)
Tampere Stadium, Tampere (capacity 16,800)
Last Game: A 1-1 draw in a friendly at Tynecastle on 22nd April 1998
As there are only 3 teams in this pot, one of the groups will be a 3 team group. With less games, there will be little room for error, and the 3rd place team will face relegation to UEFA Nations League Division D. All groups in Divisions A and B are 3 team groups, so there will be a chance of some friendlies against other UEFA nations.
This could be a tough away fixture for Scotland, especially if the game was played in September. They’re a decent enough side, and even managed a win over Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 2018 qualification. Definitely the trickiest of the Pot 4 teams.
GSP Stadium, Nicosia (capacity 22,859)
Last game: a 2-1 victory in Larnaca on the 11th November 2011
Although the Kadriorg Stadium is no longer used, most Scotland fans will know the ‘One team in Tallinn’ story after the Estonian’s refused to play the qualifier against Scotland in 1996.
Albert Le Coq Arena (Lilleküla Stadium), Tallinn (capacity 9,692)
Last game: A 1-0 victory at Pittodrie on the 6th February 2013
Nothing to see here. Move along. Having drawn them for four consecutive Euro Qualifing campaigns, in addition to WC2018 qualification, I’m sure we’d all prefer to avoid them for the inaugural Nations League. I doubt any stadium renovation in Vilnius will be complete by next September, so hopefully we’d secure a decent number of tickets again, or failing that, the game would be played in Kaunas.
LFF Stadium, Vilnius (capacity 5,067)
Darius and Girėnas Stadium, Kaunas (capacity 9,180)
Last game: a 3-0 victory in Vilnius on 1st September 2017