The second edition of the UEFA Nations League begins in September 2020. Here's a guide for all you need to know about the competition.
What is the UEFA Nations League?
It is a competition between the 55 member nations of UEFA, created because "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 are not providing adequate competition for national teams."
So this means there are no more international friendlies?
This was the plan, save for pre-tournament warm-up matches and rare blank dates for some nations.
However, with the coronavirus pandemic pausing football in March, UEFA lost the match dates for the Euro 2020 playoffs. These games now slot into the international windows of October and November 2020, making them treble headers alongside the UEFA Nations League fixtures. There will be 16 nations involved in the playoffs, with the other 39 countries receiving two friendly dates alongside their Nations League matches.
After this, World Cup qualifying then runs through 2021, meaning there will be no friendlies until March 2022 (save for a warm-up match before the rearranged Euro 2020 next summer). The exception is for some nations in groups of five teams in World Cup qualifying, who will have two spare match dates.
What is the format?
The 55 nations are split into four "Leagues." The strongest nations are in League A, and the weakest in League D.
Leagues A, B and C: Four groups of four nations (16 teams each)
League D: One group of four and one group of three (7)
Teams within each group will play each other home and away.
What are the UEFA Nations League groups?
The draw for the 2020 UEFA Nations League was held in Amsterdam on March 3.
Group 1: Netherlands, Italy, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Poland
Group 2: England, Belgium, Denmark, Iceland
Group 3: Portugal, France, Sweden, Croatia
Group 4: Switzerland, Spain, Ukraine, Germany
Group 1: Austria, Norway, Northern Ireland, Romania
Group 2: Czech Republic, Scotland, Slovakia, Israel
Group 3: Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Hungary
Group 4: Wales, Finland, Republic of Ireland, Bulgaria
Group 1: Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Montenegro
Group 2: Armenia, Estonia, North Macedonia, Georgia
Group 3: Moldova, Slovenia, Kosovo, Greece
Group 4: Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Belarus, Albania
Group 1: Malta, Andorra, Latvia, Faroe Islands
Group 2: San Marino, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar
What are the fixture dates?
The group stage will be played in 2020, on the following match dates. All games can be seen here.
Matchday 1: Sept. 3-5, 2020
Matchday 2: Sept. 6-8, 2020
Matchday 3: Oct. 10-11, 2020
Matchday 4: Oct. 13-14, 2020
Matchday 5: Nov. 14-15, 2020
Matchday 6: Nov, 17-18, 2020
Will there actually be UEFA Nations League champions?
Yes. The four group winners from League A will play off in knockout format (semifinals, third-place match and final). This was supposed to happen in June 2021, but with Euro 2020 delayed to next summer, the Nations League finals will now take place in October 2021. The host nation has yet to be chosen, though it has to be one of the finalists.
The finalists will be drawn into a group of five nations in World Cup qualifying so two dates can remain free for the Nations League finals.
Who are the UEFA Nations League holders?
Is there promotion and relegation?
Yes. The winners of each group in Leagues B, C and D move up, while the nations bottom of Leagues A, B and C drop down for the next edition of the Nations League.
So why weren't Germany relegated for this edition?
Although Germany, Croatia, Iceland and Poland finished bottom of their League A groups, the decision to expand to 16 nations in Leagues A and B meant no nations were relegated. The format revamp also meant Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia and Turkey avoided relegation from League B.
By moving from three nations in a group to four, it removed the two dates for international friendlies that existed in the 2018 edition.
How will the Nations League affect World Cup qualifying?
First of all, the games will be crucial in earning FIFA World Ranking points. The qualifying draw will take place on Nov. 29, with the seedings based on the World Ranking at the end of the Nations League group stage. Italy, Netherlands and Germany all run the risk of being unseeded in the draw if they have a poor Nations League campaign. The same applies to all other nations vying for crucial seeding places through the other pots.
Secondly, the 2020-21 UEFA Nations League will decide the final two teams for the 2022 World Cup playoffs.
The 10 group winners in World Cup qualifying will go direct to Qatar 2022. The 10 group runners-up will enter the playoffs, along with the two best-ranked Nations League group winners who do not have a qualification route. It's important to underline that it is Nations League group winners, and not best-ranked not to have a route. So as an example, Montenegro could get a playoff by winning their League C group, but Scotland miss out completely despite being runners-up in a higher League.
Why are games taking place amid the coronavirus crisis?
UEFA was the only confederation to play international football in September 2020, and with the international break coming so close to the start of the 2020-21 domestic seasons, many have questioned why the Nations League is still going ahead in these times.
Quite simply, it's down to finances. The Nations League is a crucial source of income to the vast majority of the national associations, even playing games behind closed doors, and the loss of this funding could have a catastrophic effect.
Guaranteed solidarity funding for each country by League is as follows:
League A: €2.25m
League B: €1.5m
League C: €1.125m
League D: €750,000
This income has already been budgeted for, and for the smaller nations it represents a significant proportion of their cash flow.
League winners get a double payment, so for example Scotland received a total of €2.25m for winning League C last time, with North Macedonia receiving €1.5m.
The League A finalists also have a prize pool, and in 2019 champions Portugal took home a total of €10.5m, Netherlands €9m, England €8m and Switzerland €7m.
How could the coronavirus affect the games?
UEFA has published a set of principles to ensure games go ahead and to protect the interests of clubs.
Firstly, if a player has to travel to a country where he would have to quarantine on arrival, or on return, then the club can refuse to release him for international duty. Many nations will create "travel corridors" for elite sport, but this is not guaranteed.
UEFA has also indicated that it may be necessary to play games in a neutral country if coronavirus issues make it impossible for the host to stage it.
Finally, if there are positive COVID-19 tests within a squad, the following process applies (but will never supersede the decisions of a local health authority to prevent a game taking place):
- If a country has at least 13 players available (including at least one goalkeeper), the match will go ahead as scheduled
- If this is not possible, UEFA may reschedule or move to a neutral venue
- If the match cannot be rescheduled, the national association that is responsible for the match not taking place will forfeit. If both countries or neither country is responsible, the game will be decided by drawing of lots (i.e., win 1-0, loss 0-1 or draw 0-0)
- If a member of the appointed referee team tests positive, match officials who may be of the same nationality as one of the countries and/or may not be on the FIFA list could be used
When is the next Nations League?
Believe it or not, another edition will be squeezed into the packed World Cup year in 2022. There will be four rounds of games in June, and another two in September. The finals will be played in June 2023.
The games will have a direct impact on seeding for qualifying for Euro 2024, and provide the ranking for the playoffs of that tournament.