UEFA have welcomed us all to a brave new world. Gone are meaningless friendly matches between European nations, replaced by...slightly less meaningless friendly matches between European nations.
The UEFA Nations League kicks off next year, as a way of adding a bit more tension to non-qualifier matches. To do so, there's a prize on offer: qualification for the European Championships.
All of the 55 UEFA members have been sorted into four different leagues based on their overall rankings, with each of those leagues divided into four groups. These league games will be played between September and November in 2018. From there, the top sides in each group progress to a Final Four competition, to be played in June 2019. Those who finish bottom of their groups in Leagues A, B, and C will be relegated and replaced with the top sides from Leagues B, C, and D respectively.
And there's a further reason to pay attention, for the four best-placed sides in each league who do not qualify for the Euros will playoff against each other in 2020, with one qualifying spot per league on offer.
Today, UEFA confirmed the seedings for the draw, with Ireland put in Pot 2 of League B along with Sweden, Bosnia, and Ukraine. We'll face one side from Pot 1 (Wales, Austria, Russia, Slovakia) and one from Pot 3 (Northern Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Turkey) meaning there's a fair chance of a reunion with a couple of rivals from the most recent qualification.
Just to clarify how this might work for Ireland: we will play two group games against two of the sides mentioned above. Should we finish bottom of the group, we'll be relegated to League C the next time the competition comes around. Should we top the group, we'll be promoted to League A (with the top nations of the world, and England) and further to that, we'll qualify for a playoff competition to compete for the League B title. More important is the backdoor this offers to the Euros should we fail to qualify for Euro 2020 via the regular route: the top-ranked side in these playoffs not to qualify via the traditional route will be granted a place at the tournament.
The draw for the Nations League takes place on January 24th. We bet you're as excited as we are.
The full seeding is available to read on the UEFA website.