Scotland’s defeat to Belgium leaves them with a mountain to climb in their Euro 2020 qualification group, but the Nations League can offer salvation. We break down what UEFA’s new play-off system means for each of the Home Nations and Republic of Ireland.
Twenty of the 24 teams playing at Euro 2020 next summer will be made up of the top two finishers from each of the 10 qualification groups, but four teams will make it to the tournament via a complicated play-off system.
Being eligible for the play-offs depends on how well a country did in the Nations League which, as we attempt to explain below, is good for some but not for others.
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- Germany dent Northern Ireland hopes
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Scotland’s back-up plan
Scotland fans may be in a state of despair after their defeat to Belgium but qualifying for their first major men’s tournament in more than two decades may still happen.
That’s because topping their Nations League C group guarantees them a place in the play-offs, where they will take on the other teams that excelled in that tier of the competition in a one-legged semi-final and, hopefully, final.
At the moment, the other teams in Scotland’s way would be Norway, Serbia and either Israel or Bulgaria. Only Serbia is ranked above Scotland in the current FIFA rankings.
Wales have hope
A top-two finish in the group stage automatically gets you a place at Euro 2020 and Wales’ late winner against Azerbaijan on Friday means they could rise up the Group E standings with four games to play.
Should they fail to secure a top-two finish, however, Wales’ mid-table finish in Nations League B means they have a good chance of qualifying for the play-offs as many of the teams from the top tier of the competition (Nations League A) will qualify automatically.
As it stands, Wales will be in the play-offs along with Czech Republic, Turkey and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Nations League offers no Northern Ireland fall back
Northern Ireland, however, cannot rely on their Nations League form to guarantee them a play-off spot. They were relegated from Nations League B, meaning finishing either first or second in Group C may be the only route to Euro 2020.
They may have lost to Germany but Northern Ireland are second in the table, still with the Netherlands to play twice and a trip to Germany on the horizon too.
Republic of Ireland in a sticky situation
Republic of Ireland were also relegated from Nations League B, meaning the are also likely to have to rely on their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.
The good news is they are currently top of Group D with three games to play against rivals Switzerland and old foes Denmark following a tricky trip to Georgia.
It won’t be easy but automatic qualification is in their hands. However, there probably will not be the safety net of a play-off should they fail.
England almost there
England’s performance in the Nations League means they are guaranteed a play-off place but their form in Group A means a top-two finish could be secured next month.
Gareth Southgate’s side has to battle against complacency just as much as the teams they’ve already beaten once this qualifying cycle.