The new UEFA Women's Nations League and European Qualifiers system has now begun.
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The competition comprises two interconnected phases, the UEFA Women's Nations League and the European Qualifiers, each phase played in a league-style format with associations divided into three tiers. Within each tier, national teams compete in groups of four (or three), with each team playing one home match and one away match against all the other teams in their group. The UEFA Women's EURO 2025 host Switzerland participate from start to finish. At the conclusion of each league stage, league rankings will be established and teams promoted or relegated for the next competition phase or edition. At the end of the Nations League phase, the best four teams will contest the Nations League finals, while at the end of the European Qualifiers, final tournament play-offs will be contested for those teams not directly qualified for UEFA Women's EURO 2025.
But how does it work precisely? An example based on 51 entries:
* Due to the suspension of all Russian teams and clubs from UEFA competitions until further notice, as decided by the UEFA Executive Committee on 28 February 2022 and confirmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on 15 July 2022, the final league allocation will be communicated before the draw for the relevant competition which takes place in April 2023.
The UEFA Nations League is composed of a league stage, matches for promotion and relegation, and finals comprising two semi-finals, a third-place match and a final.
In the league stage, teams are split into three leagues based on their current UEFA women's national team coefficient rankings.
Leagues A and B consist of 16 teams drawn into four groups of four; League C consists of 19 teams drawn into four groups of four and one group of three (note that the actual group composition of League C depends on the number of participating teams).
All matches are be played over six matchdays, with each team playing one home match and one away match against all the other teams in their group.
The ultimate goals of this phase of the competition are to win the Nations League title and to achieve the best possible starting position for the next phase.
Every four years, the Nations League finals will also serve as the European Qualifiers for the Women's Olympic Football Tournament, i.e. the first edition will qualify teams for the 2024 Olympic Tournament in France.
The Nations League ranking at the end of the league stage will establish who plays in the Nations League finals as well as what starting league position teams will have in the European Qualifiers phase. Depending on the league stage ranking after Matchday 6, teams will either maintain their position in the league, be automatically promoted or relegated, or will enter promotion and relegation matches.
Nations League finals
The four group winners in League A will progress to the Nations League finals.
The finals will be played in single-leg knockout matches, with semi-finals, a third-place match and a final, and will be organised by the teams involved.
For 2024, the two finalists will join France as Europe's three Women's Olympic Football Tournament representatives (along with the third-placed team if France reach the final).
For the upcoming European Qualifiers:
• the winners and runners-up of League A stay in League A;
• the winners of Leagues B and C will be promoted to the next league;
• all fourth-placed teams in Leagues A and B, as well as the lowest-ranked third-placed team in League B, will be relegated to the next league;
• the two lowest-ranked runners-up and all third and fourth-placed teams in League C will stay in League C.
Additional promotion/relegation matches
All remaining teams are involved in promotion and relegation matches, played on a home-and-away basis, and have another chance to compete for a better starting league position in the European Qualifiers:
• the third-placed teams in League A play matches against the League B runners-up, with the winners playing in League A and the defeated teams in League B;
• the three best-ranked third-placed teams in League B play matches against the three best-ranked League C runners-up, with the winners playing in League B and the defeated teams in League C.
These matches take place in parallel with the Nations League finals.
The European Qualifiers start in spring 2024, following the conclusion of the UEFA Nations League, and are composed of a league stage and final tournament play-offs.
The European Qualifiers league stage is played in the same format as the Nations League, with teams split into three leagues: League A with 16 teams, League B with 16 teams and League C with 19 teams. Each team's starting league position is determined based on the results of the Nations League, as described above.
Again, teams compete in groups of four or three teams (League C) and over six matchdays, with each team playing one home match and one away match against all the other teams in their group.
The ultimate goals of this phase of the competition are to qualify for the UEFA Women's EURO (or the FIFA Women's World Cup) and to be positioned as high as possible in the league system for the next cycle.
The European Qualifiers ranking at the end of the league stage determines three main outcomes: who qualifies directly for the final tournament, who goes into the play-offs for the final tournament, and what starting league position teams will have in the upcoming Nations League. Depending on the league standings, teams will either maintain their position in the league or be automatically promoted or relegated.
Direct qualification for UEFA Women's EURO 2025
The final European Qualifiers league ranking will reward the eight top teams in League A with direct qualification for UEFA Women's EURO 2025. If hosts Switzerland have not qualified automatically, they will be guaranteed a slot.
European Qualifiers play-offs for UEFA Women's EURO 2025
The remaining slots will be contested over two rounds of home-and-away European Qualifiers play-offs. The play-off path illustrated below may be adjusted to take into account the performance of the team(s) of the host association(s).
In the first round, the teams finishing third and fourth in League A will play the winners and three best-ranked runners-up in League C. The eight winners progress to the second round.
The four group winners and two best-ranked runners-up in League B will be drawn into six ties against the remaining two runners-up and four third-placed teams in League B. The six winners progress to the second round.
In the second round, the teams will be drawn into seven ties, with the seven winners progressing to the final tournament.
Automatic promotion/relegation, but no promotion/relegation matches for next cycle
For the upcoming UEFA Nations League:
• the winners, runners-up and third-placed teams of League A stay in League A;
• the runners-up and three best-ranked third-placed teams in League B stay in League B;
• the runners-up, third-placed and fourth-placed teams in League C stay in League C;
• the winners of Leagues B and C will be promoted to the next league;
• all fourth-placed teams in Leagues A and B, as well as the lowest-ranked third-placed team of League B, will be relegated to the next league.
Subject to final confirmation of the women's international match calendar by FIFA, the competition is planned to be played over two seasons, as follows:
The UEFA Nations League phase will be played from autumn 2023 to spring 2024.
The UEFA European Qualifiers phase will be played from spring 2024 to autumn 2024.
Who has recommended it?
The changes come after extensive work by a national team competitions working group comprising representatives of 17 national associations of varying strengths, with the UEFA Women's Football Committee strongly supporting the working group's recommendation.
Why has this been recommended?
With this new system, every match counts, ensuring more competitive matches and thus a greater sporting and commercial interest in national team football. The new system allows for multiple objectives to be achieved, by adding the Nations League title and qualification for the Olympics to the main goals of qualifying for the UEFA Women's EURO or the FIFA Women's World Cup. From start to finish, the new format is marked by openness as teams have multiple chances to qualify for major international tournaments. All the above is achieved while leaving open chances of qualification for all teams.
How will the format benefit the game?
Due to the three-tier league system, teams will play teams of a similar strength. The system offers more competitive matches and therefore more matches that can be won. That said, given the promotion and relegation opportunities among the three leagues, teams can still meet stronger or weaker opponents. The same applies for the European Qualifiers final tournament play-offs, where there will be matches between teams from different leagues.
The new competition is built on meritocracy and encourages the long-term development of women's national teams as competition cycles are interconnected.
Will there be new branding?
Yes, new brands are being developed.
Who owns media and sponsorship rights?
The ownership of media and sponsorship rights remains with national associations.
How will FIFA Women's World Cup 2027 qualification work?
The road to FIFA Women's World Cup 2027 will be played in the exact same format as for UEFA Women's EURO 2025, with the only difference being an adjusted European Qualifiers play-off pathway due to a lesser number of qualifying slots for FIFA Women's World Cup 2027. In the current slot allocation for FIFA Women's World Cup 2023, Europe has 11 direct slots plus one intercontinental play-off slot.