The UEFA Nations League explained in the simplest possible way

Gareth Bale has joined up with his Wales team-mates ahead of Thursday's clash with Ireland

Gareth Bale has joined up with his Wales team-mates ahead of Thursday's clash with Ireland

The remaining four places in the 24-team lineup will be decided in Nations League playoffs.

It starts in September and continues across the October and November worldwide breaks.

A team's positioning will determine if they are involved in the Nations League play-off if they fail to qualify via the normal European Qualifiers.

There are also a host of friendlies across the global break, as well as the second round of fixtures from the African Cup of Nations qualifying.

So from Ireland's perspective, winning their Nations League mini-group and making the March play-offs should be a real objective, in case Martin O'Neill's side are handed a very tough qualifying group or they hit a slump in form.

That particular qualification process will take place throughout the entire calendar year of 2019 where the top two in each group will gain automatic qualification.

Each group contains three or four teams, with everyone playing each other home and away between September and November this year.

This new play-off format will guarantee one of the teams in League D a place in Europe's major global tournament. One of those four teams will act as the hosts of the event - with a decision on that to be taken in December.

Northern Ireland, Slovakia, Sweden, Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Turkey, Austria and Russian Federation make up the remaining nine sides in League B. The first round of games run from Thursday, September 6 through to Tuesday, September 11. Northern Ireland play Bosnia on Saturday (September 8) at Windsor Park. Outside of the big tournaments like the World Cup and European Championship, the worldwide breaks tend to be filled with either meaningless friendly fixtures, or qualifying games for those big tournaments featuring the bigger nations squashing lower-ranking ones.

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Scotland are in League C and have been placed in a group with Albania and Israel.

By the end of 2019, twenty teams will have qualified through the regular UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, and a lot of permutations will come into play in relation to who will feature in the play-offs.

While the qualifying group stage for Euro 2020 will still go ahead, the inception of the Nations League will affect the timeline. That will account for 20 of the finalists.

First off, it is important to remember that all teams in Europe are now split into four separate leagues: A, B, C and D.

The new tournament sees the 55 European national teams split into four divisions, taking promotion and relegation to worldwide football while also offering an alternative route to the 2020 European Championship, without replacing the qualifiers themselves.

The next three leagues see 12, 15 and 16 teams respectively.

However, if a group victor has already qualified via the classic route, then their spot will go to the next best-ranked team in their league.

If a country has already qualified by the conventional route, their place will go to the next highest-ranked team from their respective Nations League tier.

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