How Does The Nations League Work?

It is the newest international competition in European football, and its format is now being copied by other federations too. The UEFA Nations League, it seems, is here to stay.

However, unlike the FIFA World Cup, or the European Championships explaining how this tournament actually works isn’t easy. Nor is showing how teams are promoted and relegated between the different divisions and indeed, how the divisions and groups all work together and what it means.

Furthermore, it is complicated working out how teams can qualify for spots in European Championships and World Cup playoffs from their Nations League performances too.

So in this article, we are going to explain exactly how the Nations League is set up. How the different divisions and groups within those division work. We will explain how teams get promoted and relegated.

Plus of course we’ll explain who competes in the Nations League semi-finals and final, as well as how the playoff spots for other major tournaments are allocated.

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The Current Nations League Cycle

We have now reached the end of the third Nations League cycle and Spain were the latest team to follow France and Portugal into the history books as they defeated Croatia on penalties earlier this year to claim the title.

This means that the next phase of Nations League games will not begin until September 2024 and will be completed by November 2024, with a new Quarter Final home/away playoff in March 2025 ahead of the finals in June 2025.

Nations League 2024/25

There have been tweaks to the format of the Nations League after each of the three seasons thus far and this time is no different.

Let’s begin by taking a look at how each of the four divisions line up ahead of the new tournament.

League A

  • Spain
  • Croatia
  • Italy
  • Netherlands
  • Denmark
  • Portugal
  • Belgium
  • Hungary
  • Switzerland
  • Germany
  • Poland
  • France
  • Israel
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Serbia
  • Scotland

League B

  • Austria
  • Czech Republic
  • England
  • Wales
  • Finland
  • Ukraine
  • Iceland
  • Norway
  • Slovenia
  • Republic of Ireland
  • Albania
  • Montenegro
  • Georgia
  • Greece
  • Turkey
  • Kazakhstan

League C

  • Romania
  • Sweden
  • Armenia
  • Russia*
  • Luxembourg
  • Azerbaijan
  • Kosovo
  • Bulgaria
  • Faroe Islands
  • North Macedonia
  • Slovakia
  • Northern Ireland
  • Estonia
  • Latvia
  • 2 winners from League C Playouts from Cyprus, Belarus, Lithuania or Gibraltar

*Russia has been suspended from UEFA and FIFA competitions and it is unclear if they will be able to compete in the tournament next year.

League D

  • 2 losers from League C Playouts from Cyprus, Belarus, Lithuania or Gibraltar
  • Moldova
  • Malta
  • Andorra
  • San Marino
  • Liechtenstein

How the Nations League is organised

For each of League A, B and C; the 16 teams from each league will be drawn into four groups of four teams.

  • League A Groups – A1, A2, A3, A4
  • League B Groups – B1, B2, B3, B4
  • League C Groups – C1, C2, C3, C4

The teams will play the other teams in their group home and away across a total of six fixtures. Two played per month from September through to November 2024.

League D is different as it has seven teams in it, which are split into two groups, D1 which has four teams, D2 which has three.

Automatic Nations League Finals Qualification, Promotion & Relegation

Finals Qualification

Qualification for the UEFA Nations League Finals is possible for the teams that finish in the top two places of each Group in League A.

In League A, the four Group Winners will play one of the four Group runner up teams in a two-legged, home & away playoff quarter final in March 2025.

This is a new addition to the competition ostensibly for the next season, but consequently could be integrated permanently.

The four winners of the quarter finals over two legs will reach the Nations League Finals.

Promotion – Automatic

The following teams are promoted automatically:

  • League B – The top teams from Groups B1, B2, B3 and B4 are promoted to League A.
  • League C – The top teams from Groups C1, C2, C3 and C4 are promoted to League B.
  • League D – The top teams from Groups D1 and D2 are promoted to League C

Relegation – Automatic

  • League A – The four teams finishing bottom of Groups A1, A2, A3 & A4 are relegated to League B
  • League B – The four teams finishing bottom of Groups B1, B2, B3 & B4 are relegated to League C
  • League C – The four teams finishing bottom of Groups C1, C2, C3 & C4 are ranked based on their records within their groups with the worst two teams relegated to League D. The teams with the two better records remain in League C.

UEFA Nations League Promotion & Relegation Playoffs

Another new addition to the tournament is the promotion and relegation playoffs.

These will involve teams that finish in 3rd place in League A and B, along with the teams that finish in 2nd place in Leagues B and C.

These two-legged playoffs will be played in March 2025 and will be as follows:

League A v League B playoffs

  • League B Runner Up v League A 3rd Place
  • League B Runner Up v League A 3rd Place
  • League B Runner Up v League A 3rd Place
  • League B Runner Up v League A 3rd Place

The winner of each two-legged tie in this section will be placed in League A, with the loser going into League B.

League B v League C playoffs

  • League C Runner Up v League B 3rd Place
  • League C Runner Up v League B 3rd Place
  • League C Runner Up v League B 3rd Place
  • League C Runner Up v League B 3rd Place

The winner of each two-legged tie in this section will be placed in League B, with the loser going into League C.

How Does UEFA Nations League Performance Affect 2026 World Cup Qualification?

Europe will have a total of 16 teams representing it at the 2026 World Cup Finals.

12 of these will be the respective Group Winners from the qualifying campaign.

The 12 second placed teams in the group stage are joined by the four best ranked Nations League Group Winners who are not included in the 12 Group Winners or 12 Group Runners Up.

That means a team’s Nations League performance could see them qualify for the World Cup playoffs, despite not finishing in the top two in their World Cup qualifying group.

Odds will be available on bet365 once the draw for the initial Group Stages for the next tournament have been made.

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