Wales can look forward to an exciting new era of international football this year when the UEFA Nations League begins.
Designed to reduce the number of friendly fixtures and subsequently give international matches outside of major tournament qualifiers more meaning, the new competition will change the landscape of international football in Europe.
The inaugural draw for the competition takes place on 24January. Wales have been placed in Pot 1 of League B and our potential group opponents have been confirmed as Sweden, Ukraine, Republic of Ireland and Bosnia and Herzegovina from Pot 2, with Northern Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic and Turkey from Pot 3. League B will consist of four groups of three teams.
All 55 UEFA nations will compete across four separate leagues (A-D) which have been decided by the current coefficient ranking system. Each league will have four groups. There will be promotion and relegation as the competition evolves, and it will work in conjunction with qualification for the finals of UEFA EURO and the FIFA World Cup in order to streamline those particular qualifying competitions. The competition will work on a two-year cycle, with the overall UEFA Nations League winner being confirmed every odd year.
The new initiative will reduce the number of friendly internationals, but there will remain a space in the international calendar for friendly matches against teams from different confederations. This is particularly important as teams prepare to compete in the finals of the World Cup. However, the addition of this new international competition will add a competitive edge and excitement, as the small groups of between three and four teams will ensure that each and every game matters.
There will be an outright UEFA Nations League winner every two years from the four group winners of League A who will compete in the semi-finals and then the final. The inaugural winner will be decided in 2019. Games will be played on a home and away basis with fixtures taking place between September and November this year. Qualification for EURO 2020 will then take place between March and November 2019.
The four Group B winners will be promoted to League A, and the four bottom teams will be relegated to League C ahead of the next UEFA Nations League competition in 2020. Meanwhile, the top four-ranked League B teams that do not qualify for EURO 2020 will enter the play-offs, where one place at the finals will be on offer.