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The UEFA Nations League is a new competition that was launched in 2018 and held every two years. The league was created in place of the international friendlies and as it creates the possibility of nations to qualify for the World Cup or European Championships, the UEFA Nations League inspires nations to be more competitive.

Structure of the UEFA Nations League

As a UEFA event, it is open to all European football nations, who play across 4 leagues: League A, League B, League C, and League D.

Within each league, there are different pots in which teams are placed into groups of 3. Once the group phase is completed, the winners of the pots in League A then advance to the Finals stage, which takes place months later. The teams that win the pots, or place runners up in some conditions, in Leagues B, C and D, all achieve promotion.

In the finals, the group winning teams or League A play in a knockout round until there are two teams remaining, and the winner is declared the champions of the UEFA Nations League.


In 2013, the Norwegian Football Association president Yngvve Hallen put forward the idea of a third international competition for European teams to compete in besides the World Cup and UEFA European Championships. The new tournament would be designed to have numerous leagues, in which all of the nations could play against teams with similar rankings so that there could be a fair competition. The structure of these leagues would work in a similar way to that of the Ice Hockey World Cup, where the strongest teams would be in the top leagues and the weaker sides would have leagues of their own. There would be mobility between the leagues, so that teams could climb to higher ranking leagues or be relegated to lower leagues.

The inaugural competition was held in 2018-19, with the league phase lasting from September through to November, and the Finals being held the following June.

In Group A1, France, Germany and the Netherlands were drawn together. The Netherlands won the group, winning a place in the playoffs. In Group A2, Belgium, Iceland and Switzerland played each other. Switzerland won the group and qualified for the playoffs. Group A3 comprised the national teams of Italy, Poland and Portugal, and Portugal won the group. In Group A4, England, Croatia and Spain played each other. England won the group, joining the Netherlands, Switzerland and Portugal in the UEFA Nations League Finals playoffs.

In League B the teams that won their group were given promotion to League A. Group B1 contained Ukraine, Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Ukraine won the group and achieved promotion. In Group B2, Sweden, Russia and Turkey played. Sweden drew with Russia for points but won on goal difference, winning them promotion. In Group B3, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Northern Ireland played. Bosnia and Herzegovina won three of their games to go to the top of the group and join the other teams that won promotion. Group B4 comprised the teams of Denmark, the Republic of Ireland and Wales. Denmark beat Wales twice and drew with the Republic of Ireland twice, and finished as group leaders, achieving promotion.

In League C the top two teams in each group won promotion to League B. Scotland, Israel and Albania all played in Group C1. Scotland were the favourites and went on to win the group, with Israel coming in second place. In Group C, Estonia, Greece, Finland and Hungary all played. Finland won four of their games and lost two, and Hungary won three games, drew once, and lost twice. The teams fell into first and second place in the group. Group C3 comprised the national teams of Bulgaria, Cyprus, Norway and Slovenia. Norway, who were the favourites in the group, won 4 games and went to the top of the group, and Bulgaria managed to win 3 games to finish in second place, giving both teams promotion to League B. In Group C4, Montenegro, Lithuania, Serbia and Romania played. Serbia finished at the top of the group and Romania finished in second place, giving both teams promotion to League B.

League D, like C, offered promotion to the teams that finished first and second in each group, except for group D2 that also offered promotion to the team that finished third. Group D1 consisted of Andorra, Latvia, Georgia and Kazakhstan, and both Georgia and Kazakhstan achieved promotion. In Group D2, Belarus, Moldova, Luxembourg and San Marino played. Belarus, Luxembourg and Moldova finished in first, second and third place, achieving promotion to League C. In Group D3, Azerbaijan, the Faroe Islands, Kosovo and Malta played. Kosovo and Azerbaijan finished in first and second place. Group D4 comprised Armenia, Gibraltar, Macedonia and Lichtenstein. Macedonia and Armenia finished at the top of the table, ensuring promotion for both teams. An extra group was created for the best ranking third placed teams in League D: Gibraltar, the Faroe Islands, Moldova and Latvia. Moldova won the group and joined the teams that earned promotion in the Groups D1 through D4.

In the finals, Portugal were drawn with Switzerland and England were drawn with the Netherlands. Portugal managed to beat Switzerland 3-1, and the Netherlands beat England 3-1 after the game went to extra time. England played Switzerland for third place, and after the game ended 0-0 after regular time and extra time, the match went to a penalty shootout that England won. Portugal then faced the Netherlands in the final, and with a single goal scored at the hour mark, Portugal won the match and became the first winners of the UEFA Nations League.

For the 2021 competition, the structure was altered, where the losers of each group were relegated to the League below and the winners of the groups were directly promoted to the League above. In League A, Italy, Belgium, France and Spain won the groups A1 through A4. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Sweden, and the Ukraine were at the bottom of the groups and were therefore relegated to League B. In League B, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Wales won their groups and achieved promotion to League A. Northern Ireland, Slovakia, Turkey and Bulgaria all finished at the bottom of their respective groups and were relegated to League C. In League C, Montenegro, Armenia, Slovenia, and Albania all achieved promotion to League B by winning their groups. Cyprus, Estonia, Moldova and Kazakhstan all finished at the bottom of their groups and therefore had to play in a relegation playoff. Estonia and Moldova both lost the playoffs and were then relegated to League D. There were only two groups in League D, and the Faroe Islands and Gibraltar won them, achieving promotion to League C.

In the knockout round, Italy were drawn with Spain and Belgium with France. Spain and France won, with the two teams advancing to the finals. Italy and Belgium played in the third place playoff, with Italy winning the match. In the finals, France, the 2018 World Cup champions, beat Spain, to become the second winners of the UEFA Nations League.

Fun Facts

The UEFA Nations League is quite controversial amongst football players. Top players such as Kevin de Bruyne and Van Dijk have spoken against the competition saying it is "unimportant" or called the tournament a series of "glorified friendlies". Similar sentiment has been expressed by managers such as Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger, who have pointed out that the players will not have time to rest if they have to play at a competitive level during the international breaks. Joachim Lowe however, spoke in favour of the competition saying that it makes the international breaks more competitive and offers more countries the chance to qualify for the World Cup and European Championship.

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