The Nations League kicks off for the Republic of Ireland tonight. Here is our simple guide to how the whole thing works and why it is important.
The European nations are divided into four Leagues with the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland both in the second level.
Within those leagues, there are four groups of three teams, each of whom will play each other home and away across six match dates in September, October and November of this year.
The winner of each group will be promoted to the next level up the next time around and the bottom team will drop to the next level down.
Looking across the groups this means that one of Germany, France or the Netherlands will be ‘relegated’ to League B at the end of the autumn campaign and either of the Irish teams could end up playing in a group next time around, in the autumn of 2020, with England or Spain.
It’s a smart replacement for the kind of friendly fixtures that would in the past have included games against Oman and will serve to boost interest and ticket sales, an important consideration for the health of the game.
An additional bonus is an extra opportunity to qualify for the Euro 2020 Finals.
The seeding for the draw for the qualifying groups will be based on results in the Nations League.
The draw for these will take place in Dublin in December as part of our hosting four games in the finals in 2020.
There will be ten groups of four or five teams each with the top two in each group qualifying for the finals.
That will leave four places and those will be decided by two single leg semi-finals and one single leg final played among the best teams from each group, within each League of the Nations League that has not qualified through the group stage.
This could mean that we finish bottom of the group but if Wales and Denmark qualify through the group stage we would still get a sudden death shot at Euro 2020 qualification.
With two home games guaranteed for the Aviva Stadium in 2020 that alone is a reason to be excited about the new format.
The Republic of Ireland play Wales in Cardiff tonight and at home in Dublin on Tuesday, 16th October. The Danish games will be at home on Saturday, October 13th and away on Monday, 19th November.
Northern Ireland will play Bosnia and Herzegovina at home on Saturday, 8th September and Austria on Sunday 18th November. The away fixtures will be on Monday 15th and Friday 12th October.
From a sponsorship perspective, the competition marks the first outing for Volkswagen as an official partner of UEFA’s National Team competitions between 2018 and 2022.