Michael O’Neill faces Nations League draw dilemma

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, sitting with Stevie Frail at Rugby Park, was a spectator at Kilmarnock's Scottish Cup tie against Ross County. Picture: Roddy Scott/SNS
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, sitting with Stevie Frail at Rugby Park, was a spectator at Kilmarnock's Scottish Cup tie against Ross County. Picture: Roddy Scott/SNS
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The Uefa Nations League draw on Wednesday will prove a key moment in Scotland’s pursuit of Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill.

Despite talks between O’Neill and the SFA last Thursday, the Irish Football Association believes the 48-year-old will represent them at the draw in Switzerland.

As it stands, SFA chief executive Stewart Regan and president Alan McRae are due to represent Scotland, who have been without a manager since October following the decision not to renew Gordon Strachan’s contract.

It remains to be seen if O’Neill will delay beyond Wednesday a decision on the SFA’s 
four-year contract offer which is understood to be worth £500,000-a-year – around £200,000-a year shy of the four-year extension the IFA are willing to add to the two years his current deal still has to run.

O’Neill travelling to Lausanne with the matter unresolved would present the possibility of him assessing Northern Ireland’s Nations League prospects in Switzerland, only for him to assume responsibility for Scotland in the competition within days.

Scotland are top seeds in League C of the draw for the new tournament that will be contested by all 55 Uefa affiliated countries, who will be competing against nations of a similar standing. They will be split into four and three team groups, across Leagues A – the top-ranked countries – B, C and D, to form 16 groups.

The competition, played between September and December of this year, will involve teams playing six or four games, on a home and away basis. The winners of each of the four groups in Leagues A, B, C and D will go forward to one-game semi-finals against the other teams topping groups in their sections, before a one-game final. The four sides coming out on top in these League finals will gain places to Euro 2020.

Scotland will play four friendlies before the campaign starts, including one against Costa Rica. Scotland will host the Central Americans in a friendly on 23 March, according to the Costa Rica football federation. The game would be O’Neill’s first game in charge were he to accept the Scotland job.