UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, has expanded its Nations League national teams tournament with the addition of a new knockout round that will see a quarter-final stage and promotion/relegation playoffs introduced for the next edition in the 2024-25 season.
At its headquarters in Switzerland yesterday (January 25), UEFA’s Executive Committee agreed the extra knockout round will be scheduled for March, between the tournament’s November group stage and the four-team finals in June.
The new round will see the top two teams in each of the four groups in the top-tier League A progress to a home-and-away quarter-final stage, with the winners qualifying for the final four.
The promotion-relegation playoffs, meanwhile, will also be played over two legs in March between teams finishing third (out of four) in League A and second in League B, as well as the teams finishing third in League B and second in Group C.
The League A semi-finals and final will continue to be single-leg ties played in June in non-tournament years as they are now.
The first Nations League edition to implement the new format will begin in September 2024 and run through to the finals in June 2025.
The revised format will have a knock-on effect on the European qualification system for the 2026 FIFA World Cup and 2028 UEFA European Championships, both of which are organized by UEFA.
Instead of 10 qualification groups currently in use, there will be 12 – six with five teams and six with four.
Countries that reach the final four will be placed in a four-team group as their qualification program will not begin until September 2025.
Qualification for the tournaments will begin in March but only with the groups containing five teams and only with countries that are not still involved in the Nations League.
Giorgio Marchetti, UEFA’s general secretary and competitions director said the changes will have no impact on the two initiatives announced by FIFA president Gianni Infantino last month – a 32-team Club World Cup in 2025 and a World Series national teams event that will be played in March in even years.
However, players in clubs competing in FIFA’s Club World Cup and whose countries are also playing in UEFA’s Nations League final four will have a busy summer in 2025.
UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin said: “The introduction of the UEFA Nations League was a success story, replacing friendly games with more competitive matches.
“And now, by introducing the new knockout phase, teams will be given even more opportunities to progress while keeping the same number of games within the international match calendar.
“The predictability of the European qualifiers has also been addressed and tackled, with a fresh new format that will offer all the teams an equal chance to qualify for major tournaments.
“The new format promises to bring more excitement to Europe’s national team football competitions that continue to grow from strength to strength.”
During the meeting, the executive committee announced its decision to keep the European Championships limited to 24 teams after reports suggested the governing body was keen to increase the number of teams to 32 for the next edition, hosted by Germany in 2024.
Members also agreed to switch the 2023 Super Cup from Kazain in Russia to the Greek capital Athens, where the game will be played at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium on August 16.
Russia’s clubs and national teams are currently banned from UEFA competitions following the country’s invasion and ongoing occupation of Ukraine.