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Friday 26 Jan 2024
Romania could be familiar opponents for Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s senior men’s team could face Romania three times this year.

Michael O’Neill’s side are due to take on the Romanians in an international friendly in Bucharest on 22 March.

However, the two countries could meet again this autumn – twice.

That’s because both Romania and Northern Ireland will be competing in League C in the fourth edition of the UEFA Nations League in September, October and November. And they have been placed in separate pots ahead of next month’s Nations League draw in Paris.

The 54 UEFA member associations participating in the league’s group phase have been divided into four leagues based on their results in the 2022-23 UEFA Nations League.

Romania will be in Pot 1 for the League C draw in France, while Northern Ireland have been placed in Pot 3.

The other countries in Pot 1 are Sweden, Armenia and Luxembourg, while the other nations in Pot 3 are North Macedonia, Slovakia and Cyprus.

Potential opponents for Northern Ireland from Pot 2 include Azerbaijan, Kosovo, Bulgaria and Faroe Islands.

And the Pot 4 countries are Belarus, Estonia, Latvia and either Lithuania or Gibraltar, who will face each other in a play-off in March.

Each team in League C will play six matches in their group, one home and one away against the other three nations in the group.

The four group winners in Leagues B and C, as well as the two group winners in League D, will be automatically promoted to Leagues A, B and C respectively.

The third-ranked teams of League A and the runners-up of League B, as well as the third-ranked teams of League B and the runners-up of League C, will have to play a home-and-away promotion/relegation play-off.

There will also be play-offs between the two best-ranked fourth-placed teams from League C and the two runners-up from League D. The two lowest-ranked fourth-placed teams in League C, meanwhile, will be relegated to League D.

The draw for the group phase of the fourth edition of the UEFA Nations League is set to be staged in Paris on 8 February.

The Nations League is being expanded with a new knockout round to be played in March 2025, thereby creating continuity between the group phase ending in November and the finals played next summer.

The League A group winners and runners-up will participate in home-and-away quarter-finals, with the winners of these ties qualifying for the Final Four. The finals (to be staged by one of the four nations that qualify from League A) are set to take place in June 2025.

Northern Ireland are due to play four friendlies – two in March (both away, against Romania and Scotland) and two in June (opposition TBC) – before their fourth UEFA Nations League campaign begins in September.

Image: Northern Ireland last played Romania in November 2020 – in a UEFA Nations League (League B Group 1) encounter at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. The game ended 1-1.