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England boss Gareth Southgate confident Nations League will offer tough test

The Nations League is set to replace the majority of friendlies.

England manager Gareth Southgate is confident everyone will get behind the UEFA Nations League campaign which features “high-quality” fixtures against Spain and Croatia.

Four leagues of A, B, C and D have been split into four groups of three or four teams, with the Nations League games set to replace the majority of friendlies. It will also feature promotion and relegation.

England have been drawn into Group Four of League A, while Wales, under new manager Ryan Giggs, will face the Republic of Ireland and Denmark in Group Four of League B.

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Northern Ireland are in Group Three of League B, and will play Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Scotland, who are still without a new manager, will play in League C and were drawn into a three-team Group One.

The UEFA competition is designed to allow teams to play against those who are similarly ranked – and will offer some nations who do not qualify for Euro 2020 via the normal route a path to the play-offs.

Southgate is confident the new venture can prove a success, both on and off the pitch.

“The whole concept of this tournament is you play high-quality and competitive matches, so that criteria is fulfilled by the group we are in,” the England manager said on Sky Sports News.

“Croatia we haven’t played for a while so we are looking forward to that and Spain, of course, are one of the best teams in the world, so it will be good to test ourselves in those games.

“Everybody is still getting to grips with what that (winning the Nations League group) will mean, and I am sure there will be a bigger focus after the World Cup.

“But we like the concept of fewer friendlies and the concept of games against high-level teams, I think that is really important.

“We saw in November with our matches against Brazil and Germany, the enthusiasm of players, supporters, of everybody was at a different level – and that is what we have to recreate to make international football meaningful.”

Elsewhere, world champions Germany meet France and Holland in Group One of League A, while Euro 2016 winners Portugal face Italy and Poland in Group Three of the top division.

Wales manager Giggs is relishing a swift reunion with the Republic of Ireland, who were in the same World Cup qualifying group with his nation.

“There will be plenty of motivation there for the players, but it’s a new start, obviously a new coach and a new beginning,” he said, quoted on www.uefa.com.

Scotland defender Andy Robertson said: “We’re determined to get to a major tournament. The Nations League is something that could take us there and we’ll put everything into it.”

Martin O’Neill, who has just agreed a new contract to remain in charge of the Republic of Ireland until 2020, said: “There is competition attached to these games, promotion and relegation and it will all affect qualifying for the European Championship, so I am in total agreement with it.”

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill said on www.irishfa.com: “It gives us an opportunity for promotion in the Nations League and also the opportunity to win a place at Euro 2020.”

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