UEFA Nations League is a competition played between all 55 member nations of UEFA. It was formed to replace international friendlies with competitive matches and the format of the competition is such that matches will be played against equally-ranked teams as the nations are divided into a series of groups based on their rankings.

As per UEFA, the idea behind forming the competition was to provide ‘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.’

And French head coach Didier Deschamps echoed those sentiments ahead of the France versus Spain UEFA Nations League 2020-21 final. "When we come up against sides who are a bit weaker on paper, players are aware of that and it’s difficult to find the ‘adrenalin’, so to speak, to motivate yourself and be highly competitive.

"When you look at the groups, they’re the best national sides, since League A is made up of the best national teams in Europe… We want this trophy. In the past, there were two international titles, the EURO and the World Cup. There are now three with the Nations League, and we want to win it."

UEFA Nations League format

The 55 competing nations are split into four Leagues as per their FIFA ranking. League A, B and C comprise 16 teams while League D has seven teams. The tournament has relegation and promotion as well, with group winners from Leagues B, C and D gaining promotion. Those finishing bottom of the groups in Leagues A and B will face relegation.

Teams finishing at the top of their groups in League A qualify for the UEFA Nations League finals. The group toppers then square off in the semis before the final showdown.

UEFA Nations League winners list

The first-ever UEFA Nations League started during the 2018-19 football season. While the league stage games were entirely played in 2018, the finals were played between 5-9 June 2019 in Portugal. 

The likes of Portugal, Switzerland, Netherlands and England qualified for the semi-finals after topping their respective groups and Portugal went on to win the inaugural edition, beating Netherlands 1-0 in the final.

The second edition of the UEFA Nations League saw the group stage matches being played between September 3, 2021, to November 18, 2021. UEFA Euro 2020 champions Italy and reigning world champions France were joined by Belgium and Spain in the finals.

France locked horns with Spain for the title on October 10, 2021, and goals from Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe guided Les Bleus to a 2-1 win.

Spain are the defending champions of the UEFA Nations League, having defeated Croatia 5-4 on penalties in the 2023 final at the Stadion Feijenoord in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Year Winner Runner-up
2018-19 Portugal Netherlands
2020-21 France Spain
2022-23 Spain Croatia

Featured photo: AFP / Franck Fife