Scotland: Friendlies first, but Nations League vital for Alex McLeish mission

Scotland manager Alex McLeish
Scotland manager Alex McLeish faces Nations League ties with Israel and Albania later in the year

For Alex McLeish, a batch of friendly matches is the first obligation of his second spell in charge of the national team.

They are an opportunity to get to know players, to bring new faces into the squad, to kick-start a new era, beginning with the visit of Costa Rica to Hampden on Friday.

They will not, though, greatly aid Scotland's European Championship qualifying cause.

The Nations League is an addition to the international calendar, and as well as opening up a second qualifying route to the Euro 2020 finals, those matches influence the seeding system, rather than friendly fixtures.

McLeish might also want to take detailed notes from the game in Hungary on Tuesday, since they might yet stand in Scotland's way for Euro 2020 qualification.

Scotland have been placed in Tier C of the Uefa Nations League, in a group alongside Israel and Albania, with the fixtures to be played across September, October and November.

Scotland's Nations League fixtures - 2018
Mon 10 Sep: H v AlbaniaSat 17 Nov: A v Albania
Thur 11 Oct: A v Israel Tue 20 Nov: H v Israel

If Scotland finish top of their group, they will progress to a play-off involving four teams from Tier C, with the winner qualifying for Euro 2020. The play-offs will take place at the conclusion of the Euros qualification campaign, in November 2019 and March 2020.

The highest ranked teams in Tier C are Romania, Slovenia and Scotland's opponents on Tuesday - Hungary.

In addition, if Scotland win their Nations League group, they'll be placed in Pot 3 for the Euro 2020 qualifying draw in Dublin in December.

If Scotland finish behind Israel and Albania, they'll be guaranteed to be in Pot 4. That will also be the case if they finish second in their group, unless they are one of the two best runners-up in Tier C.

It was once argued that not playing friendlies was a good strategic move to climb up the rankings by not losing any points while teams around you did, with Wales being used as an example. That is no longer the case.

McLeish has further friendlies to contend with against Peru and Mexico at the end of the season, and Belgium later in the year.

But it is the Nations League that is pivotal to Scotland's hopes of ending their 20-year absence from major tournaments, since it impacts on seeding for the Euros qualifying draw and offers an additional route to the finals.

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