England v Spain: What is the UEFA Nations League and how does it work?

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Gareth Southgate’s England are back in action for the first time since the World Cup when they play Spain in the UEFA Nations League on Saturday.

The new competition aims to make international matches that take place between major tournaments more competitive, but how does it work?

England manager Gareth Southgate

England manager Gareth Southgate

When are matches played?

Matches will be played for the first time this season and will take place every two years – so either side of the World Cup or the European Championships.

International breaks that used to be filled with somewhat pointless friendlies now have a competitive purpose.

Who plays in the competition?

As the tournament is run by UEFA, the competition is just for European nations.

Unlike the Euros, nations do not need to qualify for the competition so all 55 member nations will be involved.

How does it work?

Teams have been put into four leagues from A-D with other nations that have a similar ranking to them.

This means smaller countries with less international success will play each other and more dominant forces in European football will also be grouped together – so there’s no chance of England v San Marino in this competition.

Each league is split into four groups of teams that will play each other home and away between September and November 2018.

The winners of groups in leagues B, C and D will be promoted, while the losers of the groups in leagues A, B and C will be relegated into the league below.

League A group winners will progress to the semi-finals of the competition in June 2019 and then the winner of those matches will play in the final.

Who is in England’s group and league?

England are in the top league, League A, and have been drawn in a group with Spain and Croatia.

If the Three Lions can progress from the group, they will face the winners of the other groups in League A which are as follows:

League A

Group 1 – Germany, France, Netherlands

Group 2 – Belgium, Switzerland, Iceland

Group 3 – Portugal, Italy, Poland

Group 4 – Spain, England, Croatia

When are England playing?

8 September – England v Spain

12 October – Croatia v England

15 October – Spain v England

18 November – England v Croatia