Nations League: How Scotland could be just four wins from Euro 2020
It's too complicated. It doesn't make any sense. It's an irrelevance. But it's Scotland's best chance of reaching a major tournament for the first time in 22 years.
The Uefa Nations League begins for Alex McLeish's side on Monday, when Albania visit and, once you hack through all the possibilities and permutations, the conclusion can be reached that Scotland could be just four wins from Euro 2020.
Granted, even gathering four victories against teams of their own level feels beyond Scotland in the aftermath of Friday's hiding by Belgium. But, if the increasingly alarming unravelling of McLeish's second reign can be tempered with success against the Albanians, suddenly the outlook will change.
But surely Scotland need more than four wins? And what if they don't get them? And where do the European Championship qualifiers fit in?
- Scotland have 'whole heap of negatives' to address
- 'Albania tie is bigger picture, but view is obscured'
How does this four wins thing work?
With its focus sharpened by Hampden hosting four Euro 2020 tournament matches, the Scottish FA is pushing Uefa's new competition hard. And here's why.
Forget all the top teams - and even the good sides. Scotland are protected from those in the third tier of the competition, are the top seeds in a section with Albania and Israel and will play both home and away between now and November. So far, so simple.
With the Albanians opening the group by beating Israel, Scotland probably need to beat Christian Panucci's side on Monday. But, if they can, another home win over Israel and avoiding defeat in both away games would be enough to top the section.
That guarantees a place in the Nations League play-offs in March 2020. Win their one-legged semi-final and final against two similarly ranked teams - say Greece then Serbia - and Scotland will be at the Euros. A doddle, clearly.
One note of caution, though. Finish bottom of the group and Scotland will be relegated to the bottom for the next Nations League alongside the likes of Gibraltar and Liechtenstein.
|Group one||Group two||Group three||Group four|
So what if they don't win the group?
The next batch of international fixtures will be in March, when the regular Euro 2020 qualification process begins.
There will be 10 groups of five or six teams - with the seedings determined by how teams performed in the Nations League - and the top two in each will qualify after eight months of fixtures.
Scotland are likely to be either a third or fourth seed in one of those sections, so getting through to a finals held in 12 host cities around the continent, including Glasgow, seems unlikely.
However, there will be four places left to be filled by the four sides who emerge from those Nations League play-offs.
Still with me? Good. Because now is where it gets properly complicated.
Should one of the nations who topped their Nations League group then qualify through regular means, their play-off place will go to the next highest-ranked team from their tier. To confuse things further, that will not necessarily be the runners-up in their group.
Furthermore, should there not be enough teams in one of the tiers… actually, let's not tie ourselves up in knots with that. This Uefa video might help...
Is it worth getting relegated then?
As you may have deduced from that video, the structure of the play-offs means that one nation from each tier will claim a finals place. So one of Azerbaijan, Macedonia, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Latvia, the Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Liechtenstein, Malta, Andorra, Kosovo, San Marino or Gibraltar will qualify for Euro 2020.
So it could be in Scotland's interests to strategically tumble down a tier with a couple of experimental team selections in the hope of securing a circuitous, but more forgiving, route to a major tournament?
Perhaps, although would you wager any significant sum on the national team managing to negotiate such a path without some form of self harm? Furthermore, doing so would also cause the Scots to drop further down the ranking and make their normal qualification groups even more daunting.
Let's instead keep it simple. Win four matches, and don't get turned over in Israel and Albania, and Scotland will be at Euro 2020.