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UEFA Nations League: all you need to know

What is it? How does it work? Why does UEFA believe that it improves the quality of national-team football? Find out here.

UEFA Nations League: all you need to know
UEFA Nations League: all you need to know ©Sportsfile

What is the background to the UEFA Nations League?

The rejuvenation of national-team football – and the UEFA Nations League – stems from the desire of UEFA and its 55 member associations to improve the quality and standing of national-team football. UEFA and its associations wanted more sporting meaning in national-team football, with associations, coaches, players and supporters increasingly of the opinion that friendly matches do not provide 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 following three years. The UEFA Nations League was unanimously adopted at the XXXVIII Ordinary UEFA Congress in Astana on 27 March 2014.

The full 2020/21 fixture schedule with confirmed dates and kick-off times is available here.

2020/21 Nations League explained

What is the basic format?

2020/21 Nations League: new format explained
  • The format of the UEFA Nations League features promotion and relegation. The 55 European national teams were divided into four leagues in accordance with UEFA's national association coefficient rankings at the end of the 2018/19 UEFA Nations League – the inaugural edition.
  • League A includes the top-ranked sides and League D includes the lowest.
  • The composition of the various groups for the 2020/21 edition was decided by a draw in Amsterdam on 3 March 2020.
  • Following an adjustment to the competition confirmed by UEFA on 24 September 2019, Leagues A, B and C now feature 16 teams each while there are seven teams in League D, as of the 2020/21 edition.
  • With the introduction of the new league structure, two League C teams will be relegated to League D for the third edition of the competition in 2022/23. Those two teams will be determined by play-offs (home and away), to be played between the four fourth-ranked teams from each League C group.

Why was the format adjusted after the 2018/19 edition?

The change to the format followed a consultation process which involved all of UEFA's 55 national associations and reflects their desire to further minimise the number of friendly matches. In addition, it enhances sporting fairness as all teams in four-team groups will play their last match on the same day and at the same time. Moreover, the number of competitive matches during the competition's league phase will increase from 138 to 162, thereby increasing the commercial value of the competition.

The successful concept of the Finals remains untouched, with the four group winners of League A playing each other to determine the UEFA Nations League winners.

When will the UEFA Nations League take place?

The group stage matches of the 2020/21 UEFA Nations League will be played on the following dates: 3/4/5 and 6/7/8 September; 10/11 and 13/14 October; 14/15 and 17/18 November 2020. Click here for details of all the fixtures, with confirmed dates and kick-off times. 

How are the overall UEFA Nations League rankings calculated?

Within leagues A, B, C and D, the overall ranking will be calculated based on position in the group then points, goal difference, goals scored, away goals scored, wins, away wins, disciplinary points, coefficient ranking. In League D, results against the fourth-placed team are not taken into account for the purposes of comparing the teams placed first, second and third in their respective group.

What are the advantages for national associations and teams?

National associations and coaches, in consultations with UEFA, revealed that they felt that friendly internationals were 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 UEFA Nations League Finals: a top-level event.

Lower-ranking teams who have struggled against sides ranked considerably higher than them now get the chance to take part in balanced matches.

While the UEFA Nations League will now replace all friendly internationals otherwise played between September and November 2020, there will still be space in the calendar for friendlies.

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 many friendlies fail to deliver competitive and meaningful football. Now they will have the opportunity to see their teams play in more competitive matches.

Nations League 2018/19 memories

In every even year there are World Cup or UEFA EURO champions; now in every odd year there will be a UEFA Nations League winner. 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 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 even go back to their clubs earlier than was previously 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 is still 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 opponents from other confederations.