Germany grouped with France, Netherlands in Nations League
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Renewing two of European soccer’s great rivalries, World Cup champion Germany will play France and the Netherlands when the Nations League kicks off in September.
Germany coach Joachim Loew wanted — and got — a tough group in Wednesday’s draw for the newest national-team competition in world soccer.
“We weren’t lucky with the draw, thankfully,” Loew joked after UEFA allocated 55 teams into 16 groups in four tiers.
The first Nations League also placed 2010 World Cup winner Spain in a group with England and Croatia. The top-tier League A also grouped European champion Portugal with Italy and Poland, while Belgium drew Switzerland and Iceland.
Teams play home and away games from Sept. 6 through Nov. 20.
Group winners in League A will play a Final Four mini-tournament in June 2019 to decide the Nations League champion.
UEFA created the competition to replace most friendlies, which generate little interest among coaches, fans and broadcasters.
The format guarantees top-ranked teams play each other more often.
France will play Germany again after winning their 2016 European Championship semifinal match, a result which avenged a loss in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals. The French also beat the Dutch twice in qualifying for this year’s World Cup.
“They are very exciting games, a good thing for everyone in football,” France coach Didier Deschamps said.
In second-tier League B, Wales coach Ryan Giggs and Ireland assistant coach Roy Keane were reunited in the draw after discussing their teams’ prospects over breakfast.
“I’m looking forward to pitting my brains against him,” Giggs said of Keane, his long-time Manchester United teammate.
Denmark is also in the group.
UEFA has tried to help lower-ranked nations get extra competitive games against teams at their own level, and give them a more realistic qualifying route to the European Championship.
Nations League results will help decide the Euro 2020 playoff lineup in March that year. At least one team from the lowest-ranked League D will qualify for Euro 2020.
Games will be played in September, October and November on the usual national-team match dates protected by FIFA.
Teams in League A and B — which have four groups of three nations, playing each other home and away — will still have two slots free to arrange friendlies against teams like Brazil and Argentina.
Lower-ranked teams in the four-team groups of Leagues C and D have all their matches booked.
There will be a mini-tournament for the League A group winners to decide the Nations League champion.
The semifinals and final will be played in one host nation from June 5-9, 2019. UEFA will pick the host in December from among the four competing teams.
PROMOTION AND RELEGATION
Group winners in Leagues B, C and D will be promoted up a tier for the next Nations League groups in 2020.
Last-place teams in Leagues A, B and C will be relegated.
EURO 2020 QUALIFYING
The Nations League will push back qualifying for the 2020 European Championship, to be played throughout 2019.
It will also affect the 10-group Euro 2020 draw, which UEFA will not make until after the Nations League groups finish.
Top-tier teams going to the Final Four will go into one of the five groups of five teams. That will clear their June schedule for the mini-tournament.
There are also five Euro 2020 qualifying groups of six teams, playing qualifiers in March, June, September, October and November 2019 in the usual FIFA slots.
The top two in each of the 10 groups will advance to Euro 2020. The remaining four places in the 24-team lineup will be decided in playoffs.
EURO 2020 PLAYOFFS
In March 2020, each Nations League tier will have a four-team playoff bracket with the winner advancing to Euro 2020.
It means one League D team — possibly Azerbaijan, Belarus or Georgia — will go to the tournament.
Playoffs will be for teams that failed to earn a Euro 2020 place through the qualifying groups. Playoff entries will be allocated by positions in Nations League groups.
League A playoffs likely will look strange, filled by League B losers because most top-tier teams will qualify automatically in 2019.
It also means the Euro 2020 draw will be in April, only a few weeks before the tournament opens in 12 host countries.