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UEFA Nations League: all you need to know

Published: Wednesday 21 September 2016, 12.15CET
What is it? How will it work? What is it trying to achieve and why does UEFA believe that it will improve the quality and standing of national team football? Find out here.
UEFA Nations League: all you need to know
International teams have a new honour to aim at ©AFP/Getty Images
Published: Wednesday 21 September 2016, 12.15CET

UEFA Nations League: all you need to know

What is it? How will it work? What is it trying to achieve and why does UEFA believe that it will improve the quality and standing of national team football? Find out here.

What is the background to the UEFA Nations League?

UEFA is an association of associations and continually discusses and reviews both club and national team competitions with its members.

So the rejuvenation of national team football – and the UEFA Nations League – stems from the desire of UEFA, and especially the UEFA President, to improve the quality and standing of national team football. There is also the desire from the associations for more sporting meaning in national team football, with associations, coaches, players and supporters increasingly of the opinion that friendly matches are not providing adequate competition for national teams.


Extensive consultation and discussions started as far back as the 2011 UEFA Strategy Meeting in Cyprus and continued at a series of Top Executive Programme (TEP) meetings over the past three years: namely the UEFA general secretaries' meeting in Stockholm in 2013, the UEFA Strategy Meeting in Dubrovnik in 2014, several meetings of the UEFA National Team Competitions Committee and, most recently, a series of follow-up regional TEP meetings across Europe.

What is the basic format?

  • The UEFA Nations League will be composed of four leagues, with each league divided into four groups of 3 to 4 teams
  • The 55 participating teams are split into four leagues, A–B–C–D, according to their strength
  • League A will include the top-ranked teams, League D the lowest-ranked sides
  • Leagues A and B will consist of four groups of three teams
  • League C will comprise one group of three teams and three groups of four sides
  • League D will be formed by four groups of four teams
  • In the first edition of the competition, the participating sides will be classified according to the UEFA national team coefficient rankings (ranking as per 15 November 2017, i.e. conclusion of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers)
  • In each league, four group winners are promoted (or play in the Final Four, see below) and four teams are relegated for the next competition to be played in 2020
  • The overall UEFA Nations League rankings will determine the composition of the draw pots for the subsequent European Qualifiers
  • In addition, the UEFA Nations League will provide teams with another chance to qualify for the UEFA EURO final tournament, with four sides qualifying through play-off matches which take place in March 2020 (see below).

When will the UEFA Nations League take place?

The UEFA Nations League will take place as follows:

  • The UEFA Nations League group games will be held over six matchdays, during the 'double-headers' in September, October and November 2018. The Final Four competition for the teams that win the four groups within the top division are scheduled for June 2019.
  • For the Final Four tournament, the four group winners of UEFA Nations League A will play in a knockout format (semi-finals and final) in June 2019 to become the UEFA Nations League champion. The semi-final fixtures will be decided by a draw and the venue will be appointed by the UEFA Executive Committee
  • The play-off matches will be staged in March 2020 (see below).

Will qualifying for the UEFA EURO change?

The changes to UEFA EURO qualifying will make it more streamlined. The equation is now simple: 10 groups with the top two teams in each group qualifying automatically, and the other 4 places being awarded to UEFA Nations League play-off winners.

The UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying draw will be made after the completion of the UEFA Nations League and allow for the four UEFA Nations League Final Four participants to be drawn into groups of five teams

But the key principle of the qualifiers remains: that every team can play every team.


The European Qualifiers for UEFA EURO 2020 commence in March 2019. There will be two matchdays in each of March, June, September, October and November 2019. In total, there will be five groups of five teams and five groups of six teams (ten groups in all) playing over ten matchdays (the same number as now). The winner and runner-up in each of the ten groups will qualify automatically for the UEFA EURO 2020 final tournament (June 2020).

  • The four remaining UEFA EURO 2020 places will be allocated to the winners of play-off matches which will take place in March 2020:
    • 16 sides will take part in the play-offs and are grouped four by four. Each group vies for one qualification spot.
    • Each of the four Nations League leagues receives four play-off qualification positions to be allocated to each of the four group winners within that league.
    •  If any winners are already qualified through the European Qualifiers, then their play-off position will be allocated to the next best-ranked team of the league in question, taking into account the global ranking within the league, and then if necessary to the following league in decreasing order taking into consideration the global ranking of the relevant league.
    •  The four teams in each league will play two one-off semi-finals and one one-off 'final' to determine each of the four play-off winners.

What are the advantages for national associations and teams?

National associations and coaches, in consultations with UEFA, revealed that they feel that friendly internationals are not providing adequate sporting competition. The UEFA Nations League creates more meaningful and competitive matches for teams and a dedicated calendar and structure for national team football.

Top teams can also aspire to take part in the final four competitions, a new top-level event.

For middle-ranking and smaller nations, the UEFA Nations League will offer an extra way to qualify for UEFA EURO final tournaments. Lower-tier countries – the bottom 16 in the rankings – are now guaranteed one of the 24 qualifying slots for UEFA EURO.

Lower-ranking teams who have struggled against sides ranked considerably higher than them will now get the chance to take part in balanced matches. Teams do not learn and progress by repeatedly losing; now some sides will start winning.

While the UEFA Nations League will replace most friendly internationals, there will still be space in the calendar for friendlies, especially for top teams who may want to face opposition from outside Europe as they will be in groups of three teams.

Associations and teams benefit from clarity of the fixture calendar, and there is now a clear buffer between the end of the UEFA EURO and FIFA World Cup, and vice versa, as well as stability of income.

What are the advantages for supporters?

Supporters more than most realise that most friendlies fail to deliver competitive and meaningful football. Now they will have the opportunity to see their teams play in more competitive matches, take part in a new competition and get a second chance to qualify for the major tournaments.

In every even year there are World Cup or UEFA EURO winners; now in every odd year there will be a UEFA Nations League champion. Football is about competition and now, just like in club football, there will be a national team champion at the close of every season.

Will this mean more demands on players and clubs?

No: the UEFA Nations League and European Qualifiers will adhere to the existing agreed international match calendar. UEFA is always keen to preserve the balance between club and international football. The new competition should, in fact, reduce demands on players and clubs with less travel envisaged for friendly games while national teams will be playing more consistently at their own level. With double-header matchweeks, players will even go back to their clubs earlier than is currently the case.

Is this just about generating more revenue?

No, finances are not a driver for the new competition. However, the competition will have the same centralised media rights as have recently been introduced for all European Qualifiers so associations will have even more stability in their income.

Will there be no more friendly internationals?

There will certainly be fewer friendly internationals and undoubtedly fewer meaningless friendlies. However, there will still be space in the calendar for friendly internationals – particularly warm-up matches for final tournaments. UEFA is also keen that European teams still have the chance to play opponents from other confederations.

Last updated: 06/10/16 16.18CET