Full UEFA Nations League draw as big boys collide

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) World Cup champion Germany will play France and the Netherlands when soccer’s newest national-team competition kicks off in September.

The Nations League draw on Wednesday also placed 2010 World Cup winner Spain in a group with England and Croatia.

The first Nations League draw ranked Europe’s 55 national teams in four tiers, each containing four groups. Teams play home and away games from Sept. 6 through Nov. 20.

The top-tier League A also grouped European champion Portugal with Italy and Poland, while Belgium drew Switzerland and Iceland.

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. Lower-ranked nations get extra competitive games against teams at their own level and a more realistic qualifying route to the European Championship.

Nations League results will also decide the playoff lineup in March 2020 for that year’s European Championship, helping at least one team from the lowest-ranked League D to qualify for Euro 2020.

By creating the Nations League, UEFA has delayed kicking off the next European qualifiers until 2019. That qualifying program of 10 groups will send 20 teams to the final tournament, leaving four places to be decided by the playoffs.

GROUP STAGE

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.

FINAL FOUR

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 in June 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 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, which will 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.