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UEFA Nations League: all you need to know

Published: Friday 5 December 2014, 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: Friday 5 December 2014, 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 the 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 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 3–4 teams
  • The 54 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 teams
  • Leagues A and B will consist of four groups of three teams
  • League C will comprise two groups of three teams and two groups of four teams
  • 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 teams 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 take place 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 takes place in 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 champions. The semi-final fixtures will be decided by draw and the venue will be appointed by the UEFA Executive Committee
  • The play-off matches will take place in March 2020 (see below).

Will qualifying for the UEFA EURO change?

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

The UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying draw will be held 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 six groups of five teams and four groups of six teams (ten groups in total) 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 teams will take part in the play-offs and are grouped four by four. Each group plays 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, 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 small nations, the UEFA Nations League will provide an extra way to qualify for UEFA EURO final tournaments. Lower-tier nations − the bottom 16 in rankings − are now guaranteed one of the 24 qualifying slots for UEFA EURO.

Lower-ranking teams who have struggled against teams 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 teams 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 play teams 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 UEFA EURO and FIFA World Cup, and vice-versa, and stability of income.

What are the advantages for supporters?

Supporters more than most realise that most friendlies fail to provide competitive and meaningful football. Now they will get the chance 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 FIFA 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 champions at the end 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 matches 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 will still have the chance to play teams from other confederations.

Last updated: 18/02/16 14.45CET