The new road to the Euros: Nations League explained

Nations League is UEFA's new back door for the Euro 2020. For many teams, the road might have gotten easier. However it's more difficult to explain.

League
A
League
B
League
C
League
D
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
I
J
Sep
Oct
Nov
Mar
Jun
Sep
Oct
Nov
Mar
Jun
Jul
2018
2019
2020
Pot 1
The ten best
Pot 2
11-20
Pot 3
21-30
Pot 4
31-40
Pot 5
41-50
Pot 6
51-55
20 of 24 teams
ready for the Euros
4 teams
from Nations League

arrow_backarrow_upward The Road to the Euro 2020 starts off with a brand new tournament: Nations League.

It will finish in November 2018 and the outcome will have an impact on who gets to qualify for the Euros.

Then, the classic European Qualifiers, as we know it, will start in March 2019.

After the European Qualifiers is done, 20 teams will have qualified. The results from the Nations League will then decide which teams will be eligible for play-off for the last four spots.

We’ll get back to that.

We start off with the familiar part: the classic European Qualifiers.

The Euro 2020 will be played in 13 cities all around Europe. No team will qualify as hosts; all 55 teams will compete for the 24 available spots.

The qualifying group stage draw will be held on 2 December. The teams will then be arranged in six drawing pots.

Which seeding pot a country will be placed in will be determined by the results of the Nations League, which has concluded at this time.

The best teams end up in pot 1, the second best in pot 2 etc …

Example: Today’s ranking places England in pot 1. But if England end up with a 3rd or 4th place in their Nations League group, they risk being downgraded to pot 2.

The 55 nations are drawn into 10 groups. These groups are seeded. That way each group consists of nations from all ranking levels.

Top two teams () in each group secures a Euro-spot.

20 of the 24 Euro-spots have been decided, leaving four spots empty.

This is when the results from the Nations League comes into play, as a second chance to those who failed to qualify.

Easy? Well, it gets a bit more complicated!

The Nations League divides the 55 nations into four leagues, based on UEFA-rankings. There is no seeding: The top ranked teams face each other and the same applies for the bottom.

arrow_backarrow_upward This is how the groups are drawn.

All teams in each group will play each other home and away.

When the group stage is done, 16 group winners will be eligible for play-off.

The four group winners in each league will be paired into two semi-finals. Thereafter, a final will decide who gets a Euro-spot.

This means that at least one team from each league qualifies.

arrow_backarrow_upward Easy example: Let’s say this is how the Nations League ends, and none of the group winners qualified through the traditional qualifier. Yes, a tad unrealistic, but for the sake of this example.

In the semi-final, the group winners with the most points are paired with the group winner with the least points.

The play-off semi-finals are one match only, and the team with most points gets home field advantage. If points are equal, goal difference, most goals etc. will be decisive.

Our play-off example is as follows:

Ger
Cro
Ita
Bel
Final
Swe
Aus
Ire
Cze
Final
Hun
Ser
Nor
Sco
Final
Mac
Blr
Mal
Lat
Final

Home field advantage in the finals will be drawn. The winner of each final will qualify for the Euro 2020. The final four qualifiers then complete the 24 teams for the Euros.

PS: In league C there is an unequal number of teams in the groups. In groups containing four teams, the result against the 4th placed team will be nullified. To simplify, we’re ignoring this in our example.

arrow_backarrow_upward Another example - a bit more tricky this time:

Let's keep the fake results, but remove the 20 teams that we pretend to have qualified.

To find the final play-offs, we need a recipe and a set of rules. Let’s begin in League D and work our way up while we apply some rules when needed.

The main rule is: No group winner can play in the play-offs against a team from a higher leagues.

Let’s find the play-offs in league D.

Easy task: No play-off spots are empty.

Then we continue the bottom up process: next up is league C. One play-off spot is empty. Vi need some UEFA-rules.

Rule #1

If a group winner has already qualified, they will be replaced by the next best team in the same league.

This available spot will be filled by Greece. Greece finished 2nd along with Albania and Romania, but has more points. If the points were equal, the goal difference etc. would have been decisive.

We move further upwards: In league B, as many as three three spots are empty

Let’s use the same rule one more time. The two remaining teams in league B, Bosnia and Turkey, occupies two of the three empty spots.

But who gets the last one? There are no more teams to pick from the league. UEFA? We need another rule …

Rule #2

If the league has at least one non-qualified group winner, the free spots will be filled by the best non-qualified teams from a lower League.

Okey. We have a group winner in League B, and we apply rule #2: Romania is the best-placed team from a lower league that hasn’t got a play-off spot. Well, then Romania it is.

We finish our bottom process with league A …

Rule #1

If a group winner has already qualified, they will be replaced by the next best team in the same league.

As of rule #1, Iceland, Switzerland and Poland get the three of the four play-off spots in league A.

Rule #2

If the league has at least one non-qualified group winner, the free spots will be filled by the best non-qualified teams from a lower League.

The last spot surely must go to Albania?

… hold your horses. This league has no group winners. New rule …

Rule #3

If there is no group winner in the league, the best non-qualified team in the entire Nations League will be selected.

As you can see, Albania will still fill the empty spot. Since league A is the top league, there will be no difference between rule 2 and 3.

Finally, we have completed the play-offs, right? Not quite. Ve have to run one more test.

Anyway, we can remove the teams that haven’t secured a play-off spor.

Yet again, a bottom up process, from league D to A, is being used to find the play-off fixtures.

Rule #4

If there are more than four teams qualified for the play-offs in a given league, then a draw will occur to determine which teams will participate in the play-off path of that league and which teams will play against a team from a higher league. Furthermore, this doesn't include group winners, since they can't play in the play-offs against a team from a higher league.

As you can see, this rule does not apply to League D in this example. The play-offs will be as following:

Mac
Blr
Mal
Lat
Final

Let's move on to League C …

In League C, the play-off rule applies: More than four teams have qualified for play-off.

The group winners (Scotland, Hungary and Norway) keep their play-off paths.

Albania, Greece and Romania, on the other hand, must be drawn to decide who’ll have to move up a league, to face a stronger opponent.

Nor
Alb/​Gre/​Rom
Hun
Sco
Final

Let’s continue to league B …

Neither League B nor A has more than four teams, so no more draws. Anyway, the draw from league C will be needed to complete the play-offs

Aus
Alb/​Gre/​Rom
Bih
Tur
Final
Icl
Alb/​Gre/​Rom
Swi
Pol
Final

The winner of each play-off path completes the final four teams that joins the 20 others in the Euros.