At the half-way point of the Nations League campaign, things could hardly have gone better for Scotland. Sunday’s win over Slovakia has kept Scotland top of the table with three games remaining, starting with the visit of the Czech Republic to Hampden Park.
But what does it mean? What would winning the Nations League group mean? Should we care?
In a word, yes! The results Scotland achieve in the next three games could have a massive impact on Scotland’s chances of qualifying for major finals through to 2024.
Should Scotland win on Wednesday, they would take a four-point lead over the Czechs, meaning that at most one win in November (away to Slovakia & Israel) would secure top spot and promotion to League A.
Here’s what that would mean for coming competitions:
Winning our 2018 Nations League group (in League C) gave us the Playoff Semi-Final last Thursday against Israel and November’s Playoff Final against Serbia.
Should Scotland beat Serbia, 23-years in the international wilderness will be over. The monkey will be off our back.
World Cup 2022
Qualifying groups for World Cup 2022 will be drawn in December 2020, based on the FIFA rankings at that time.
Currently, Scotland are ranked 49th in the World (27th in Europe), hence would be at the low end of Pot 3 for World Cup Qualifying. It is unlikely we can make up the ground to make Pot 2 between now and December.
We will therefore be drawn into one of ten groups of 5 or 6. Matches will be played between March 2021 – March 2022.
Group Winners will qualify automatically while Runners-up will receive a Playoff Place.
World Cup 2022 Playoff
12 teams will receive a Playoff for World Cup 2022. Ten group runners-up and two from the Nations League.
Only Nations League group winners will be eligible for the Playoffs. The two highest ranked Nations League group winners (who haven’t qualified / finished runner-up in traditional qualifying) will receive the Playoff place.
Currently, in League A, Italy, Portugal, England and Spain lead their groups. They are very likely to finish top-two in their group.
In League B, Austria, Scotland, Russia and Wales are group leaders. So long as at least two of those teams finish top-two in their World Cup Qualifying group, then Scotland would definitely receive the Playoff if required.
Format for the Playoffs is the same as the Euro 2020 Playoffs – single-leg Semi Finals and single-leg Finals.
Nations League 2022
Will be played between June to September 2022.
Scotland would find themselves in League A, drawn against some of the best teams in Europe. This will be a real challenge for Scotland but bring glamour ties to Hampden.
Euro 2024 Qualifying
These qualifying groups will likely be seeded the same way as the qualifying groups for Euro 2020, using the Nations League ranking.
With Scotland in League A for the 2022 Nations League, a place in the 2nd pot of seeds would be guaranteed, something we haven’t enjoyed since the 2010 World Cup.
Euro 2024 qualifying will follow the same format as Euro 2020, with groups of 5/6 and top 2 finishers qualifying automatically.
Euro 2024 Playoff
If Playoffs for Euro 2024 are formatted the same as Euro 2020, Scotland would be effectively guaranteed to receive a Playoff place (if required) from their position in League A.
Iceland for example were in League A for the inaugural season of Nations League. They played four games and lost all four. Every other League A team qualified automatically for Euro 2020, meaning Iceland received a Playoff route vs Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary from League C.
In summary, winning our League B group in the current Nation’s League campaign could return:
World Cup 2022: An exceptionally good chance of a Playoff if required.
Euro 2024: Seeded 2nd for qualifying AND a guaranteed Playoff if required.
I’m sure you’ll all agree, those are prizes worth winning, right?