THE Scottish Football Association has welcomed a decision to introduce a new European competition.
The Nations League is to be implemented in the autumn of 2018 and will be a third international tournament for UEFA's 54 members. It will also form part of the qualification format for the European Championships.
The Nations League will be held every two years and on dates which are reserved ordinarily for international friendlies. National teams will be ranked into four divisions and then subdivided into four smaller pools, with teams playing on a home-and-away basis.
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It is not known at this stage where Scotland would feature among those divisions, although it is considered likely the top league will comprise such nations as Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Germany and England.
It is understood that there will be promotion and relegation between divisions and that the winner of each mini-league will progress to play semi-finals and a final. That will be held at a neutral venue and on an odd-numbered year. The four division champions will qualify for the European Championships, while the 20 other finalists will be decided by a more orthodox qualification process.
"It's great news, particularly for some of the smaller countries across UEFA," said Stewart Regan, the SFA chief executive. "It will be a better use of the friendly dates, potentially greater financial rewards and, probably more importantly for some of the smaller countries, it's an opportunity for extra play-off and qualification places for the European finals themselves."
Some friendly dates will be retained after the Nations League is introduced. The SFA is working to arrange a friendly against England at Hampden in the meantime. "We are trying to put our own fixtures together for the next couple of years and we remain focused on putting good quality matches against as high-profile opposition as possible," Regan added.
"We remain hopeful and are in discussions with England about a return fixture of the one we had [at Wembley] not too long ago."
The decision was announced at a press conference held in Kazakhstan and also raised questions of how the television rights for the new format would be decided. It is expected that these are to be organised in a similar manner to those of the Champions League - UEFA's flagship club tournament - in which half the money is distributed on the basis of the value of each country's own television rights and half on an equal basis via participation payments and match bonuses.
The new competition will cause considerable change to the international calendar, of course. One significant impact could be that the final places for qualification for Euro 2020 will not be decided until March of that year, just three months before the tournament will be scheduled to begin.
It is considered a necessary alteration to weed out the international friendlies which have become the bane of European associations. "The friendlies don't really interest anybody - neither the fans nor the players nor the media and nor the national associations," said Michel Platini, the UEFA president. "This is a good decision because nobody wants these friendlies."
The timing of the Nations League could also conflict with proposals to move the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to the winter. "I think we will adapt ourselves," said Platini. "The World Cup is the priority. I don't know when it will take place but we will organise this with respect to those dates."