With all the excitement around Euro 2024 and Scotland’s opening match against hosts Germany, it’s easy to forget that it’s only the first of two top-level competitions Steve Clarke’s side have to look forward to this year.
Thursday will bring the draw for the latest incarnation of UEFA’s Nations League tournament – and Scotland are in the elite tier after winning promotion from League B last time.
At the draw ceremony in Paris, which starts at 5pm UK time, Steve Clarke and his players will find out which of Europe’s top teams they will be facing later this year.
The Nations League has been good to Scotland and provided the play-off route that took the national team to Euro 2020 and ended the long exile from major finals. The 2022 edition saw Scotland top a group that included Ukraine, Republic of Ireland and Armenia, providing the foundation for the successful Euro 2024 qualifying campaign.
The competition has been hugely important for Steve Clarke as he’s developed his squad and built confidence and momentum. The manager is on record as saying the best way for his team to reach another level is by playing top quality opposition.
He’ll get his wish no matter who is drawn out the pot.
How does the draw work?
League A has 16 teams who will be split into four groups of four. The draw is seeded, with four separate pots based on rankings. As a newly-promoted side, Scotland will be among the bottom seeds.
For the top divisions, there are no restrictions on who can play who for political or travel reasons, so Scotland could face any combination of sides from the three seeding pots above them.
Who could Scotland draw?
This being League A, there’s no easy draw and Andy Robertson and the Scotland players will face tough opposition and difficult trips.
From Pot 1, the potential opponents are current champions (and Euros qualifying opposition) Spain, World Cup semi-finalists Croatia, European champions Italy or Netherlands.
Pot 2 offers the chance to play Denmark, Portugal, Belgium or Euro 2024 group stage opponents Hungary.
And Pot 3 has Scotland’s other Euros opposition in the shape of Switzerland and Germany, along with Poland and World Cup runners-up France.
There’s no dream draw in there but the possibility of facing Spain, Portugal and France might give even the most optimistic in the Tartan Army a little trepidation.
When are the games and what is the format?
Each team plays each other home and away in a round-robin, with two games in each of September, October and November.
Because Scotland are in League A, it doesn’t end there, unless the team are unfortunate enough to finish fourth and suffer automatic relegation.
This time around, UEFA have introduced a promotion/relegation play-off, so the teams that finish third in their League A games will play a two-legged tie against a side that has finished runners-up in League B. That could theoretically mean Scotland facing promotion hopefuls England in a play-off next March.
If Scotland finish in the top two of their group, they would advance to the Nations League knock-outs. Previously only the group winners had advanced but UEFA have expanded the latter stage of the competition.
Successful League A teams will play in the quarter-finals in late March 2025, with the four winners advancing to the finals tournament in June 2025.
Does the competition affect World Cup qualification?
The Nations League still holds a route to major finals for teams that need it.
UEFA has 16 places for the finals in North America in 2026 and the qualifying tournament starts next year.
The twelve winners of their qualifying groups will all book a place at the World Cup, while the twelve runners-up will go into play-offs along with the four best-ranked group winners from the Nations League who didn’t finish in the top two of their World Cup group.
While it seems highly unlikely that Scotland could win their League A group but finish outside the top two in the subsequent World Cup qualifiers, there’s still the chance it could come into play.
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