The UEFA Nations League is a biennial international football competition played by the senior men's national teams of the member associations of UEFA, the sport's European governing body.[1]

UEFA Nations League
Organising bodyUEFA
Founded2018; 6 years ago (2018)
RegionEurope
Number of teams55
Current champions Spain (1st title)
Most successful team(s) France
 Portugal
 Spain
(1 title each)
Television broadcastersList of broadcasters
Websiteuefa.com/nationsleague
2024–25 UEFA Nations League

The first tournament began in September 2018. The four group winners from League A qualified for the finals, played in Portugal in June 2019. The competition replaces the international friendly matches previously played on the FIFA International Match Calendar, with European national teams engaging in more frequent competitive matches against other European national teams of comparable level.

Adoption edit

In October 2013, Norwegian Football Association President Yngve Hallén confirmed that talks had been held to create a third full national-team international tournament for UEFA members[2] in addition to the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship.

The concept of the UEFA Nations League would see all of UEFA's member associations' national teams divided into a series of groups based upon a ranking formulated using their recent results, where they would be promoted and relegated to other groups according to their results within the group.[3] The proposed tournament would take place on dates on the FIFA International Match Calendar that were previously allocated for international friendlies and would not affect the FIFA World Cup or UEFA European Championship.[4]

In March 2014, UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino stated that one of the benefits of the proposal would be to help less glamorous national associations arrange games.[4]

The Royal Belgian Football Association's general secretary, Steven Martens, said that lower-ranked nations would still benefit financially from the competition, as the television contract with UEFA would be centralised.[5] The UEFA Nations League was unanimously adopted by the 54 UEFA member associations at the XXXVIII Ordinary UEFA Congress in Astana on 27 March 2014.[1]

Format edit

Original format edit

According to the approved format,[1][6][7] the 54 UEFA national teams were divided into four divisions (called "Leagues"):[8][9] 12 teams in League A, 12 teams in League B, 14 teams in League C, and 16 teams in League D. In each league, four groups were formed (with three or four teams) and teams played each other both home and away.

Adjustment starting from 2020–21 edit

After the completion of the first season, UEFA decided to adjust the format of the Nations League starting from the 2020–21 season. The new league structure comprised 16 teams in Leagues A, B, and C and seven teams in League D.[10]

The transition to the new format occurred by making various one-time changes after the 2018–19 season, namely the suspension of relegations in both League A and League B, the promotion of the two best teams per group in both League C and League D (instead of only one team per group), and the promotion of the best third-placed team from League D.

This change to the format followed a collective consultation process, whereby all UEFA national associations reiterated their intent to further reduce the number of friendly matches. The number of competitive matches was increased from 142 to 168, thus increasing the commercial value and viewer appeal of the competition. Almost all teams in the same group played their last match simultaneously with the aim of promoting fairness.[11] More matches were played within Leagues A and B, with the two leagues now incorporating competition between the 32 highest-ranked UEFA national associations, instead of the previous system where Leagues A and B together only incorporated 24 of the highest-ranked UEFA national associations.

Finals, promotion, and relegation edit

 
Pre-show at the 2021 UEFA Nations League Finals in Milano, Italia with France playing against Spain

In the top league, League A, the winners of the four groups go on to play in the Nations League Finals, with two semi-finals, a third and fourth-place decider, and a final to decide which team becomes the UEFA Nations League champion. Beginning in 2024–25, a two-legged home-and-away quarter-final round between League A group winners and runners-up, determines which four winners advanced to the Nations League Finals using the same rules above.[12][13][14][15]

Teams can also be promoted and relegated to a higher or lower league.[16][17] Starting in 2020–21, each group winner in Leagues B, C, and D are automatically promoted to the next higher league while those placing last in its group in the Leagues A and B is automatically relegated to the next lower league for the next tournament. From 2020–21 to 2022–23, the two League C teams to be relegated are determined by play-outs beginning in March of even-numbered years. Based on the Nations League overall ranking of the fourth-placed teams, the first-ranked team faces the fourth-ranked team, and the second-ranked team faces the third-ranked team. Two ties are played over two legs, with the higher-ranked team hosting the second leg. The two teams that win on aggregate remain in League C while the losing teams are relegated to League D. If the aggregate score is level, extra time will be played without the away goals rule. If still tied after extra time, a penalty shoot-out will be used to decide the winner. The away goals were originally to be used but were abolished by the UEFA Executive Committee on 16 December 2021.[18]

Starting in 2024–25, the two worst-ranked League C teams will automatically be relegated. Furthermore, promotion/relegation play-offs will also be introduced, with the third-placed teams of League A facing the runners-up of League B, the third-placed teams of League B facing the runners-up of League C, and the two best-ranked fourth-placed teams of League C facing the runners-up of League D, with the winners going to the higher league and the losers entering the lower league.[12][13][14][15] In all cases, the team from the higher division hosts the second leg. If the aggregate score is level, extra time will be played without the away goals rule enforced, and if it is still tied after extra time, a penalty shoot-out will be used to decide the winner, as guidelines by the UEFA Executive Committee on 16 December 2021.[18]

UEFA European Championship link edit

The UEFA Nations League is linked with the UEFA European Championship qualifying, providing teams another chance to qualify for the UEFA European Championship.

There were play-offs for each of Leagues A, B, C, and D in October and November 2020. Each group winner earned a spot in the semi-finals. If the group winner was already one of the 20 qualified teams, rankings were used to give the play-off spot to another team of that league. If fewer than four teams in the entire league remained unqualified, play-off spots for that league were given to teams of the next lower league. This determined the four remaining qualifying spots for the European Championship (out of 24 total).[8][9][19] However, starting with UEFA Euro 2024 onward, [20] the now-downsized League D will no longer be given its own path. Instead, if any of Leagues A, B, or C have fewer than four teams that did not qualify directly for Euro 2024, the best-ranked group winner of League D will advance to the play-offs (unless that team already qualified for the final tournament). The remaining spots will be allocated based on the Nations League overall ranking, however, group winners from Leagues B and C cannot face teams from a higher league. Therefore, additional teams from League D can only advance to the play-offs if enough teams from League C qualify directly.[21]

FIFA World Cup link edit

The Nations League was linked with European qualification for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, although to a lesser degree than the UEFA European Championship qualifying play-offs. The first round of the 2022 World Cup qualification consisted of ten groups, with each group winner directly qualified for the World Cup. Then, the second round (which followed a playoff format) was contested by the ten group runners-up, plus the best two Nations League group winners (based on the Nations League overall ranking) that finished outside the top two of their qualifying group. The playoffs were split into three playoff paths, played in two semi-finals (hosted by the seeded teams) and the final (with the home teams to be drawn), from which an additional three teams also qualified.[22]

For 2026, it will be again partially linked with European qualification for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. The first round of the 2026 World Cup qualification consisted of twelve groups, with each group winner qualified directly for the World Cup. Then, in the second round, the twelve qualifying group runners-up and the four best-ranked Nations League group winners who are not qualifying group winners or runners-up will be drawn into four play-off paths of single-leg semi-finals and single-leg finals to determine the last four UEFA teams to qualify for the World Cup.[23]

In an interview with the Polish website meczyki.pl, UEFA vice-president Zbigniew Boniek said that all 10 teams from CONMEBOL, the South American Football Confederation, would join the UEFA Nations League from the 2024–25 edition of the competition.[24] The plans, which would have acted as a response to FIFA's biennial World Cup plans, were intended as part of enhanced cooperation between the two organisations following the signing of a memorandum of understanding and the opening of a joint office in London.[25] However, such an expansion was made unlikely after CONMEBOL submitted a request to FIFA to maintain the round-robin qualification format for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.[26] On 25 January 2023, the UEFA Executive Committee confirmed the format for the 2024–25 UEFA Nations League, with no South American teams to be added.[12]

Trophy edit

The UEFA Nations League trophy was unveiled during the phase draw in Lausanne, Switzerland. The trophy represents all 55 UEFA National associations and is made of sterling silver. The trophy weighs 7.5 kg and is 71 cm tall.[27]

Anthem edit

The official anthem of the UEFA Nations League was recorded with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, singing in Latin. It is a mix of classical and electronic music, and is played when the players are entering the field of play, in television sequences and for ceremonial purposes. The composers are Giorgio Tuinfort and Franck van der Heijden.[27][28]

Seasons edit

Each season of the UEFA Nations League is played in a typical UEFA competition season format: the league phase (or "group stage") in the first half of the season from September to November, and the knockout phase in the second half of the season in March (League A quarter-finals and promotion/relegation play-offs), and June (semifinals and finals of League A) respectively, meaning a UEFA Nations League champion is crowned every two years. An exception was made in the 2022–23 season when the league phase was played in June and September 2022, due to the 2022 FIFA World Cup played in Qatar at the end of the year.[8][9][19]

Results edit

Finals edit

Keys
Season Host Final Third place play-off
Winner Score Runner-up Third Score Fourth
2018–19
Finals
  Portugal  
Portugal
1–0
 
Netherlands
 
England
0–0 (a.e.t.)
(6–5 p)

 
Switzerland
2020–21
Finals
  Italy  
France
2–1
 
Spain
 
Italy
2–1
 
Belgium
2022–23
Finals
  Netherlands  
Spain
0–0 (a.e.t.)
(5–4 p)

 
Croatia
 
Italy
3–2
 
Netherlands
2024–25
Finals

Performances by team edit

Keys
  • Italic: hosts
Team Winners Runner-up Third place Fourth place
  Spain 1 (2023) 1 (2021)
  Portugal 1 (2019)
  France 1 (2021)
  Netherlands 1 (2019) 1 (2023)
  Croatia 1 (2023)
  Italy 2 (2021, 2023)
  England 1 (2019)
   Switzerland 1 (2019)
  Belgium 1 (2021)

Team performances edit

  •  1  – Champions
  •  2  – Runners-up
  •  3  – Third place
  •  4  – Fourth place
  •   – Promoted
  •  * – Promoted after promotion/relegation play-off
  •  † – Promoted after 2018–2019 format change
  •   – No movement
  •  * – No movement after promotion/relegation play-off
  •  † – Avoided relegation after 2018–2019 format change
  •   – Relegated
  •  * – Relegated after promotion/relegation play-off
  • Q – Qualified for upcoming UEFA Nations League Finals
  • R - In playoff to avoid relegation from League.
  •    – Host country of UEFA Nations League Finals
National team Seasons in league Season
2018–19 2020–21 2022–23 2024–25
A B C D Lg Rk M Lg Rk M Lg Rk M Lg Rk M
  Albania 2 2 C 34   C 35   B 27   B
  Andorra 4 D 53   D 55   D 53   D
  Armenia 1 2 1 D 45   C 36   B 31   C
  Austria 1 3 B 18   B 18   A 13   B
  Azerbaijan 3 1 D 46   C 43   C 38   C
  Belarus 3 1 D 43   C 38   C 46   C
  Belgium 4 A 5   A 4   A 7   A
  Bosnia and Herzegovina 2 2 B 13   A 15   B 18   A
  Bulgaria 1 3 C 29   B 31   C 40   C
  Croatia 4 A 9   A 12   A 2   A
  Cyprus 4 C 36   C 46  * C 45   C
  Czech Republic 1 3 B 20   B 19   A 14   B
  Denmark 3 1 B 15   A 7   A 5   A
  England 3 1 A 3   A 9   A 15   B
  Estonia 3 1 C 37   C 47  * D 49   C
  Faroe Islands 2 2 D 50   D 50   C 41   C
  Finland 3 1 C 28   B 21   B 21   B
  France 4 A 6   A 1   A 12   A
  Georgia 1 2 1 D 40   C 42   C 33   B
  Germany 4 A 11   A 8   A 10   A
  Gibraltar 1/2 2/3 D 49   D 49   C 48 R C/D
  Greece 1 3 C 33   C 37   C 34   B
  Hungary 2 1 1 C 31   B 20   A 8   A
  Iceland 2 2 A 12   A 16   B 23   B
  Israel 1 2 1 C 30   B 25   B 17   A
  Italy 4 A 8   A 3   A 3   A
  Kazakhstan 1 2 1 D 47   C 45  * C 36   B
  Kosovo 3 1 D 42   C 44   C 39   C
  Latvia 1 3 D 51   D 53   D 50   C
  Liechtenstein 4 D 52   D 51   D 55   D
  Lithuania 3/4 0/1 C 39   C 41   C 47 R C/D
  Luxembourg 3 1 D 44   C 39   C 37   C
  Malta 4 D 54   D 52   D 52   D
  Moldova 1 3 D 48   C 48  * D 51   D
  Montenegro 2 2 C 35   C 34   B 28   B
  Netherlands 4 A 2   A 6   A 4   A
  North Macedonia 3 1 D 41   C 40   C 42   C
  Northern Ireland 2 2 B 24   B 32   C 44   C
  Norway 3 1 C 26   B 22   B 24   B
  Poland 4 A 10   A 10   A 11   A
  Portugal 4 A 1   A 5   A 6   A
  Republic of Ireland 4 B 23   B 28   B 26   B
  Romania 2 2 C 32   B 26   B 29   C
  Russia 3 B 17   B 24   B 32  
  San Marino 4 D 55   D 54   D 54   D
  Scotland 1 2 1 C 25   B 23   B 20   A
  Serbia 1 2 1 C 27   B 27   B 19   A
  Slovakia 2 2 B 21   B 30   C 43   C
  Slovenia 2 2 C 38   C 33   B 25   B
  Spain 4 A 7   A 2   A 1   A
  Sweden 1 2 1 B 16   A 14   B 30   C
   Switzerland 4 A 4   A 11   A 9   A
  Turkey 3 1 B 22   B 29   C 35   B
  Ukraine 1 3 B 14   A 13   B 22   B
  Wales 1 3 B 19   B 17   A 16   B

Reactions edit

Support edit

UEFA devised the tournament as a means to eliminate international friendlies – an aim that has been shared by many football clubs and supporters, with the regular football season being interrupted with non-competitive international matches as part of the FIFA International Match Calendar.[29][30][31]

In February 2012, it was agreed between UEFA and the European Club Association (ECA) that the international friendly schedule would be reduced from 12 to 9 matches a year with the August round of international friendlies in the UEFA confederation abolished from 2015.[32] The aspiration to eliminate friendlies in favour of a more competitive tournament has been both welcomed and criticised by many football commentators.[33][34][35]

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. 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 opponents from other confederations.

— UEFA.[36]

Criticism edit

The format has been criticised for allowing weaker teams to qualify through the Nations League to compete in the European Championship finals, instead of qualifying through the standard qualification process.[37] However, once the tournament began in 2018, it got applause for "very high-level matches" and impressive turnouts in the initial round of fixtures.[38]

However, criticism against Nations League resurfaced again in 2022 when major footballers like Kevin de Bruyne and Virgil van Dijk condemned the Nations League "unimportant" and only to glorify some friendlies as well as questioned the calendar due to possibility of injuries.[39] Their stance is also shared by Jürgen Klopp, who called it "ridiculous".[40] Croatia international Luka Modrić sparked even wider debate by accusing UEFA and the Nations League format "inhumane".[41]

Influence edit

Shortly after the foundation of the UEFA Nations League, CONCACAF, inspired by its success, announced that a similar competition format, the CONCACAF Nations League, would be established.[42] The first edition was played in 2018. Also inspired by the recent success of the Nations League, the AFC had begun to formalise a similar competition, planned to begin in 2021 before being stalled due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.[43][44]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b c "UEFA Nations League receives associations' green light". UEFA.com. 27 March 2014. Archived from the original on 21 April 2018. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  2. ^ Hojem Kvam, Lars (9 October 2013). "Hva om Ronaldo, Özil, Balotelli og Pique møtes til ligaspill – med sine landslag?". dagbladet.no (in Norwegian). Archived from the original on 24 September 2016. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
  3. ^ Gibson, Owen (10 October 2013). "Uefa explores internationals shake-up with Nations League plan". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 27 March 2014. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
  4. ^ a b "Nations League: New European tournament to be confirmed". BBC Sport. 26 March 2014. Archived from the original on 27 March 2014. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
  5. ^ "Nations League moet nieuwe mijlpaal in Europese voetbal worden". zita.be (in Dutch). 26 March 2014. Archived from the original on 1 September 2017. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
  6. ^ "UEFA Nations League: all you need to know". UEFA.com. 27 March 2014. Archived from the original on 28 August 2019. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  7. ^ "UEFA Nations League/UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying" (PDF). UEFA.com. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 December 2017. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  8. ^ a b c "UEFA Nations League format and schedule approved". UEFA.com. 4 December 2014. Archived from the original on 1 September 2020. Retrieved 31 March 2020.
  9. ^ a b c "UEFA Nations League format and schedule confirmed". UEFA.com. 4 December 2014. Archived from the original on 22 August 2020. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  10. ^ "How the 2020/21 UEFA Nations League will line up". UEFA.com. 24 September 2019. Archived from the original on 23 November 2018. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
  11. ^ "2020/21 Nations League: Who will play who?". UEFA.com. 3 March 2020. Archived from the original on 4 September 2020. Retrieved 6 September 2020.
  12. ^ a b c "New formats for UEFA men's national team competitions" (PDF). UEFA. 25 January 2023. Archived (PDF) from the original on 31 March 2023. Retrieved 25 January 2023.
  13. ^ a b UEFA.com (25 January 2023). "New formats for UEFA men's national team competitions approved | Inside UEFA". UEFA.com. Retrieved 26 November 2023.
  14. ^ a b UEFA.com (25 January 2023). "Nations League set to expand with new knockout round from 2024/25 | UEFA Nations League". UEFA.com. Retrieved 26 November 2023.
  15. ^ a b UEFA.com (25 January 2023). "New formats for UEFA men's national team competitions | European Qualifiers". UEFA.com. Retrieved 26 November 2023.
  16. ^ "Regulations of the UEFA Nations League 2018/19" (PDF). UEFA. Archived (PDF) from the original on 25 January 2023. Retrieved 25 January 2023.
  17. ^ "Regulations of the UEFA European Football Championship 2018–20" (PDF). UEFA. Archived (PDF) from the original on 6 March 2022. Retrieved 25 January 2023.
  18. ^ a b "UEFA Executive Committee approves a new Football Sustainability Strategy 2030". UEFA.com. Union of European Football Associations. 16 December 2021.
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  20. ^ "Euro 2024: All you need to know". UEFA.com. Union of European Football Associations. 1 May 2022. Archived from the original on 27 September 2021. Retrieved 1 May 2022.
  21. ^ "Regulations of the UEFA European Football Championship, 2022–24". Union of European Football Associations. 10 May 2022. Archived (PDF) from the original on 16 May 2022. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  22. ^ "UEFA Executive Committee agenda for Nyon meeting". UEFA.com. Union of European Football Associations. 27 November 2019. Archived from the original on 9 August 2020. Retrieved 28 November 2019.
  23. ^ "Lisbon to host UEFA Women's Champions League final in 2025". UEFA. 28 June 2023. Retrieved 30 June 2023.
  24. ^ Włodarczyk, Tomasz. "Rewolucja w Lidze Narodów! Czeka nas mini-mundial. Polska może zagrać z Brazylią! [NASZ NEWS]". Meczyki.pl (in Polish). Archived from the original on 16 December 2021. Retrieved 17 December 2021.
  25. ^ "UEFA and CONMEBOL renew and extend Memorandum of Understanding". UEFA.com. Union of European Football Associations. 15 December 2021. Archived from the original on 25 March 2023. Retrieved 3 May 2023.
  26. ^ "Países sudamericanos pedirán a la FIFA mantener el formato de las Eliminatorias" [South American countries will ask FIFA to maintain the format of the Qualifiers] (in Spanish). CONMEBOL. 22 August 2022. Archived from the original on 3 September 2022. Retrieved 3 May 2023.
  27. ^ a b "UEFA Nations League trophy and music revealed". UEFA.com. Archived from the original on 30 August 2018. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
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  33. ^ Liew, Jonathan (13 October 2017). "Abstract and absurd, Uefa's Nations League is anything but the Ctrl-Alt-Delete the international game needs". Archived from the original on 31 August 2018. Retrieved 31 August 2018.
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  38. ^ "UEFA Nations League: Tournament draws praise for 'very high-level matches', impressive turnouts in initial round of fixtures". Firstpost.com. 10 September 2018. Archived from the original on 7 November 2021. Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  39. ^ Miller, Nick. "De Bruyne and Van Dijk are right - Nations League in June is 'unimportant' and 'strange'". The Athletic. Retrieved 14 October 2023.
  40. ^ "Jurgen Klopp renews criticism of 'ridiculous' Uefa Nations League". The Independent. 13 May 2022. Retrieved 14 October 2023.
  41. ^ Parvizi, Kevin (15 June 2022). "Luka Modric calls out UEFA's cruelty during Nations League". The Real Champs. Retrieved 14 October 2023.
  42. ^ Bailey, Ryan (1 June 2021). "Everything you need to know about the CONCACAF Nations League Finals". Charlotte Football Club. Archived from the original on 7 November 2021. Retrieved 22 December 2021.
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  44. ^ Lowe, Martin (23 March 2021). "OPINION: Is it time Asia introduced a Nations League?". The Asian Game. Archived from the original on 7 November 2021. Retrieved 29 November 2021.

External links edit