The Nations League? What’s different?

The second edition of the Nations League started on Thursday evening and today the still relatively new UEFA tournament is bursting at the seams for the Dutch national team as well. In the Johan Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam, the Dutch Team will play against Poland at 20.45 hours.

But what about the rather complicated setup of the Nations League? There are several divisions, there is a promotion and relegation scheme and there is also an escape route to the World Cup. And now UEFA has also changed everything in the set-up.

With these six questions and fortunately also answers you are fully aware of the who, what, where and why of the Nations League.

How did it go last time with the Nations League?

From a Dutch point of view: fine! After missing out on a European Championship and a World Cup, the first edition of the Nations League was an excellent opportunity for (then) national coach Ronald Koeman to use a new generation of football talents to polish up the broken record.

And that went well. The Netherlands became first in a tough group with France and Germany and qualified for the final tournament, in June last year in Portugal. After a victory over England in the semi-finals, the Portuguese were 1-0 too strong for the Dutch in the final game.

What has changed with the groups and the divisions?

Just like the first time the 55 participating countries are divided over four divisions, A through D. The Netherlands is in Division A with the strongest countries. Each division consists of four groups, except Division D, which will be discussed later. Last time there were three countries in each group, but UEFA has enlarged the groups.

That means that the twelve countries that last became last in their group have not been relegated, as was actually the intention. Each division now has four groups with four countries, except for the lowest Division D. There are now two groups, one with four and one with three small countries.

View the grouping of Division B, Division C and Division D via Teletext.

The Netherlands is in Group 1 of Division A, together with Poland, Italy and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The winners of the four groups in Division A qualify (just like last year) for the final tournament, which will be finished after the European Championships in the autumn of 2021.

Is it still to follow? Let’s now turn to the changes in the promotion and relegation scheme.

What about the promotion and relegation scheme?

That rule has been maintained, although UEFA changed the rules of the game after the first edition so that no one relegated. Now it’s like this: the countries that become last in their group in Division A and B relegate.

The numbers last in the four groups in Division C will have to play play-offs to determine who goes down to Division D, since there are only two groups there.

Is there an escape route again this time to get to the World Cup via the Nations League?

Sure, but it’s different and a bit complicated. Last time, the sixteen best Nations League countries that had not directly qualified for the European Championships qualified for the playoffs in which four European Championships tickets could be earned.

Those play-offs are still not finished because of the coronacrisis, but this is an aside.

For the World Cup of 2022 there is a changed escape route. Only the two best Nations League countries that did not finish in the first two in their World Cup qualifiers have a chance. They will advance to the European play-offs for the World Cup, sometime in the spring of 2022.

For the real World Cup qualification there are ten European groups. The number one will qualify directly for the World Cup, the ten number two will qualify for the play-offs. Together with the two Nations League candidates they will compete for three World Cup tickets in a kind of mini-tournament.

Where and when are the Nations League matches?

The group matches are played in three blocks. From 3 to 9 September are the first two days of play. The second period is from 10 to 14 October and the last from 14 to 18 November.

The Netherlands plays all its matches in the Johan Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam. This month’s matches are still without an audience anyway. What happens in October is not yet clear.

Where are the games of the Orange in the Nations League to be seen?

All Nations League matches of the Netherlands can be seen live at the CCeit. The game against Poland can be followed tonight on NPO 1, in the CCeit app and on

The preview starts at 8.20 pm, the game at 8.45 pm. The duel can also be followed live on NPO Radio 1.