Scotland face familiar foe in Nations League as Steve Clarke’s men draw Israel again

Any novelty value to the Nations League for Scotland didn’t survive the draw for the second edition of the competition made in Amsterdam 
yesterday.

James Forrest scores the second goal of his hat-trick against Israel in the Nations League in 2018. The sides will meet again in the 2020-21 edition of the tournament. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
James Forrest scores the second goal of his hat-trick against Israel in the Nations League in 2018. The sides will meet again in the 2020-21 edition of the tournament. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS

The yet-to-be-completed inaugural tournament could yet deliver the nation from the major finals wilderness in which they have languished for 22 years. Euro 2020 hopes will go on the line when 
Steve Clarke’s men host Israel
in the play-off semi-final on 26 March. The same Israel, of course, Scotland faced in the Nations League group stage in 2018 as they topped their group. And now, the same Israel Clarke’s team will meet in the second Nations League, with the Czech Republic and Slovakia completing Group B2 drawn yesterday.

Scotland hadn’t played Israel for 32 years before being beaten 2-1 by them in Haifa in October 2018. A loss they recovered from in subsequently winning the group as the result of a 3-2 win at Hampden over the Israelis the following month.

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The format for the second Nations League will remain much the same as for the first one that was deemed successful in wiping meaningless friendlies. Alas, the important aspect that will be different will move the games in the tournament closer in appearance to, er, meaningless friendlies.

Scotland may be mighty grateful that the Nations League exists. Following an awful standard Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, it has provided them a dog’s chance against similarly-ranked opponents to reach a tournament in which Hampden is one of 13 host venues – though a trip to Norway or Serbia for a play-off final on 31 March in the event of Israel being overcome makes them an outside bet to end a more than two-decade wait for an appearance in a major finals.

It will be a different story for the second Nations League, though, since it feeds into the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar. Europe has 13 places for that tournament. The winners of the ten qualifying groups will automatically claim World Cup places. For the three that remain, the ten group second-placed teams will go into a play-off that will also include the two highest-ranked Nations League group winners who do not either win their World Cup qualifying group or finish as runners-up.

Meanwhile, England face Belgium, Denmark and Iceland in Group A2. Wales and the Republic of Ireland will meet again in Group B4 and are joined by first-time Euro finalists Finland and Bulgaria.

Northern Ireland were drawn in Group B1 with Austria, Norway and Romania. France and Croatia, who met in the 2018 World Cup final, were paired together in Group A3, while Spain and Germany go head to head in A4.

The group matches will be played between September and November this year. The group winners from League A will contest the Nations League finals in June 2021, with one of them being selected to host it.