Northern Ireland v Bosnia-Herzegovina: What is the UEFA Nations League and how does it work?

Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland are back in action when they play Bosnia-Herzegovina 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?

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill

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?

Northern Ireland players training in Belfast ahead of Saturday's inaugural Nations League clash

Northern Ireland players training in Belfast ahead of Saturday's inaugural Nations League clash

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 Germany 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 Northern Ireland’s group and league?

Northern Ireland are in the second league, League B, and have been drawn in a group with Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

If they can progress from the group, they will be promoted into League A, which currently includes England, France and Germany. The other teams in League B with Scotland are as follows:

League B

Group 1 – Slovakia, Ukraine, Czech Republic

Group 2 – Russia, Sweden, Turkey

Group 3 – Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Northern Ireland

Group 4 – Wales, Republic of Ireland, Denmark

When are Northern Ireland playing?

8 September – Northern Ireland v Bosnia-Herzegovina

12 October – Austria v Northern Ireland

15 October – Bosnia-Herzegovina v Northern Ireland

18 November – Northern Ireland v Austria