Today (Tuesday 3 March) in Amsterdam, Scotland’s Nations League path for next season, starting in September 2020 was decided. Alex McLeish’s side won their group in League C during the 2018-19 season, securing not only this month’s Playoff for Euro 2020 but also elevation into League B for the next edition of the Nations League.
The Nations League has been very good to Scotland to date, presenting a path to Euro 2020 through Israel at home on March 26 and a Playoff Final for the winner away to either Serbia or Norway five days later.
UEFA have shuffled the deck somewhat in this, the second edition of the Nations League. Europe has now been split into three Leagues (A-C) of 16 and a League D of 7, meaning Scotland would be drawn into a group of four rather than the three-team group from last time. The rationale behind this is to minimise friendly matches by giving teams competitive games on each match-day. These groups will play out across three international breaks in September, October and November 2020.
What does this mean for World Cup 2022?
This edition of the Nations League leads into qualification for the World Cup 2022 in Qatar. However, Playoff spots will not be as easily accessible as they were for Euro 2020.
For starters, UEFA only provide 13 places in the World Cup, compared to 24 for the European Championship.
Hence, when the traditional World Cup qualification group is drawn (into 10 groups of 5/6), the ten group winners will qualify automatically.
The 10 group runners-up will then join the 2 best Nations League group winners who have not qualified for the World Cup or the Playoffs. Given that 20 teams will have qualified for either the World Cup or the Playoffs, there’s a good chance that teams from League B will join the Playoffs.
These Playoffs will take the same format at those for Euro 2020 – with three sets of four teams playing a one-leg Semi-Final before a one-leg Final.
Long story short – should Scotland win their League B group – there is a chance they could be rewarded with a Playoff place for World Cup 2022.
The draw for the traditional qualifying process for World Cup 2022 will take place after the completion of the Nations League on 29 November 2020.
In today’s draw, Scotland were placed in Pot 2 in League B and were paired with: Czech Republic FIFA Rank: 45th Form: 5 wins from 8 in Euro 2020 qualifying, finished 6pts behind England in 2nd. Qualified for Euro 2020. Last Meeting with Scotland: 1-0 friendly win for Scotland in March 2016, sealed by Ikechi Anya's breakaway goal. Scotland’s Record vs: 2W, 1D, 4L
Slovakia FIFA Rank: 32nd Form: 3rd in their Euro 2020 qualifying group behind Croatia and Wales. Last Meeting with Scotland: 1-0 win for Scotland in World Cup 2018 qualifying, a last minute Martin Skrtel own goal sealing the win for Gordon Strachan’s side. Scotland’s Record vs: 1W 0D 1L
Israel FIFA Rank: 93rd Form: 5th in their Euro 2020 qualifying group, winning three games from 10. Last Meeting with Scotland: 3-2 win for Scotland in the Nations League which sealed the Euro 2020 Playoff Semi-Final vs… Israel! Scotland’s Record vs: 4W 0D 1L
While this draw isn't likely to get the pulse racing given Scotland have played all three opponents in recent years, this is a winnable group. According to ELO ratings, we have drawn the weakest teams in Pots 1 & 4.
For the Tartan Army, the prospect of a trip to Prague will surely appeal!
Next up for Scotland though, is the Euro 2020 Playoff Semi-Final vs Israel at what will surely now be a sold out Hampden Park.