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UEFA plots 2022 World Cup qualifying path via Nations League

PARIS (AP) — European teams will get a qualifying path to the 2022 World Cup via the Nations League competition. UEFA is preparing a qualifying format that should see teams earn places in the playoffs by winning a Nations League group in 2020.

It would fulfil UEFA's pledge when creating the competition five years ago to make it feed into major tournaments. "It will be part of the plan that the Nations League will fit in," UEFA's competitions expert Giorgio Marchetti told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

This week, the first Nations League champion will be crowned at a final four mini-tournament in Portugal. The host nation is joined by England, the Netherlands and Switzerland, which all won top-tier groups last year.

Group winners in all four Nations League tiers are also assured of a place in the 2020 European Championship qualifying playoffs next March, if they don't advance directly. The playoffs will decide the last four entries in a 24-team lineup at Euro 2020.

The 55 European national teams will compete for 13 places in the 32-team World Cup lineup in Qatar. Ten places will be earned by winners of the traditional qualifying groups played in 2021. That leaves three World Cup entries to be allocated in playoffs.

"Obviously we will have to include in the playoffs all the runners-up in the 10 groups," Marchetti said. One option is adding two teams based on their Nations League results to create a 12-team playoffs with two knockout rounds, where three winners advance to the 2022 World Cup.

"I think it's good to give it (Nations League) that status," said Gijs de Jong, secretary of the Netherlands soccer federation. The Dutch failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2016, but returned to form in the Nations League.

Marchetti said UEFA expects to finalize its World Cup qualifying format in September. The national team competitions panel is scheduled to meet before a UEFA executive committee session on Sept. 24 in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

"The Nations League is already very important by itself," said Marchetti, who is one of UEFA's deputy general secretaries. "There are objectives and incentives for all. And teams can be involved to the end."

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