Football/Soccer

Northern Ireland and the Republic await Uefa Nations League draw

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and his Northern Ireland counterpart Michael O'Neill could meet again in Dublin in the Uefa Nations League.

SOMEWHERE in England or perhaps Scotland seemed the likeliest locations for Martin and Michael O’Neill to meet up but instead both will be Switzerland today.

Indeed the pair, who remain the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland managers, despite offers of club and other international jobs, could meet again in Belfast and Dublin for matches in the new Uefa Nations League.

The draw for the convoluted competition, which will act as part of the qualifying process for Euro 2020, will take place from 11am (Irish time) onwards today in Lausanne.

However, the O’Neills and Irish fans will have to wait a while as the draw will start at the bottom, with the League D groupings being determined first, working up through four sections to finish with the top teams.

Both Irish teams are in ‘League B’, the second tier of the new tournament, comprising the 12 sides outside the top 12 of European participants, according to Uefa’s national co-efficient system.

With the Republic in Pot 2 and the North in Pot 3 there’s a decent chance that they will be drawn together in one of the four three-team groups in League B; matches will then be played on a home and away basis in September/ October/ November of this year.

Political sensitivities ensure that there can be no Russia-Ukraine nor Armenia-Azerbaijan pairings but that’s not the case for the two Irish teams.

The Irish sides have an equal chance of renewing recent rivalries with Wales, who knocked Northern Ireland out of Euro 2016 but lost out to the Republic for a recent World Cup play-off place.

The Welsh are one of four teams in Pot 1, along with this year’s World Cup hosts Russia, Austria, and Slovakia.

Martin O’Neill’s men could also meet the country that destroyed their World Cup dream, Denmark, as they are one of the four teams in Pot 3, along with Northern Ireland, the Czech Republic, and Turkey.

Obviously Michael O’Neill’s players could come up against one of those aforementioned Pot 1 sides – Austria, Wales, Russia, or Slovakia – and then one of the teams in Pot 2: Sweden, Ukraine, Republic of Ireland, or Bosnia & Herzegovina.

As Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will definitely be in a three-team group, they will play on four of the six match-days.

The four group winners will promoted to League A, with the four sides that finish bottom relegated to League C for the next Nations League competition, to be played in 2020.

Those four group winners from League B (as with those from Leagues A, C, and D) will also have a chance to win a place at Euro 2020 by playing off semi-finals and a final – but those games will not take place until the end of March 2020.

The bulk of qualifying places for Euro 2020 – fittingly enough 20 of the 24 – will still come through the Euro 2020 qualifying process, which will take place throughout 2019.

The 55 Uefa teams will be drawn into 10 groups (five consisting of five teams, five containing six teams), with the top two at the end of each section qualifying automatically for Euro 2020.

The main ‘selling point’ of the Nations League is that it should provide more competitive matches, given that the competing teams will be more evenly matched than is normally the case in qualifying groups.

2018 Uefa Nations League seedings:

LEAGUE A (four three-team groups to be drawn):

Pot 1: Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Spain

Pot 2: France, England, Switzerland, Italy

Pot 3: Poland, Iceland, Croatia, Netherlands

LEAGUE B (four three-team groups to be drawn):

Pot 1: Austria, Wales, Russia, Slovakia

Pot 2: Sweden, Ukraine, Republic of Ireland, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Pot 3: Northern Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Turkey

LEAGUE C (three four-team groups and one three-team group to be drawn):

Pot 1: Hungary, Romania, Scotland, Slovenia

Pot 2: Greece, Serbia, Albania, Norway

Pot 3: Montenegro, Israel, Bulgaria, Finland

Pot 4: Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania

LEAGUE D (four four-team groups to be drawn):

Pot 1: Azerbaijan, FYR Macedonia, Belarus, Georgia

Pot 2: Armenia, Latvia, Faroe Islands, Luxembourg

Pot 3: Kazakhstan, Moldova, Liechtenstein, Malta

Pot 4: Andorra, Kosovo, San Marino, Gibraltar

Uefa Nations League schedule:

Matchday 1: September 6-8 2018

Matchday 2: September 9-11 2018

Matchday 3: October 11-13 2018

Matchday 4: October 14-16 2018

Matchday 5: November 15-17 2018

Matchday 6: November 18-20 2018

League A Finals: June 5-9 2019

Uefa Euro 2020 play-off draw: November 22 2019

Uefa Euro 2020 play-offs: March 26-31 2020

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