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The first edition of the UEFA
To understand them, though, the first thing that must be understood is the format–which is not entirely straightforward.
The Nations League can be looked at as a two-phase competition, with the first one being the league phase which forms the bulk of it.
The contesting teams will be divided into three leagues–Leagues A, B and C–which can essentially be looked at as tiers. So, simply put, the best teams will be in League A, then comes League B and League C will have the weakest teams.
Considering the number of participants in the first edition, Leagues A and B have 16 teams each while League C has the remaining 19. In each of these leagues, the teams are drawn into groups of four each (except the last group in League C which has three teams due to the odd number of participants) numbered A1, A2, A3 and so on.
Within these groups, the teams will play each other home and away in a round-robin format. At the end of these matches, the final tables will have implications on the following edition of the tournament due to the promotion/relegation format.
The lowest-placed teams in each of the groups in Leagues A and B will drop down to the league below them, and they will be replaced by the top-ranked teams in Leagues B and C respectively.
There may also be promotion/relegation play-offs, but that depends on what year it is.
Ultimately, the Nations League is a tournament so there must be a winner, and that will be decided between the four group winners in League A. At the end of the group stage, they will face off in semifinals and a final to crown the champions of the Nations League, with the two finalists also becoming Europe’s representatives at the Olympics in every alternate edition (starting with the current one, although only the champion will get a spot this time since France have already taken up one spot as the hosts).
The Nations League will take place in a biennial format, so the next edition after 2023/24 will be 2025/26. However, this exact format will also be used for the qualifiers of major tournaments in the gap years, the first of which is Euro 2025.
So, after the current Nations League season ends in early 2024, we will move into the European qualifiers stage. Teams will again be divided into groups in League A, B and C and play in a round-robin format, after which direct promotion and relegation will be enacted but there will be no such playoffs.
Instead, there will be qualification playoffs for the Euros. The eight teams that take up the top two spots in each of the groups in League A directly qualify along with the host(s), but various others down to some teams in League C will then partake in a two-stage playoff system to decide the rest of the contestants.
That is the format of the Nations League, with something for almost everything. It seems a positive move for international women’s football in Europe in general, as all the teams will get consistent competitive action against one another, which is especially beneficial for lower-ranked nations.