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Uefa expand Nations League to include quarter-finals and promotion play-offs

Had the format been in play this year, Ireland would have had to play-off to preserve their League B status.

LAST UPDATE | Jan 25th 2023, 4:46 PM

UEFA HAVE EXPANDED the Nations League to include a quarter-final phase for the top-tier sides along with promotion/relegation play-offs for lower-ranked sides. 

The decision was taken at a meeting of Uefa’s Executive Committee earlier today. 

The expanded format will now see the top two sides in each of the four groups in League A compete in home-and-away quarter finals, slated for the March international window, with the winners progressing to the final four competition held in June. The change will kick in for the next edition of the competition, with no quarter-finals to be played this time around.

Instead, the four group winners will compete for the title in the Netherlands in June, with Italy today drawn to play Spain while Croatia will play Ronald Koeman’s hosts. The two winners will meet in the final on 14 June this year, with the two semi-final losers playing off for third place earlier on the same day.

Of more immediate relevance to Ireland is the introduction of promotion/relegation play-offs to Leagues A and B. From now on, the side that finishes third in their group in Leagues A and B will have to play-off to preserve their status, facing the runners-up in Leagues B and C respectively.

As is currently the case, the side that finishes bottom of their League A or B group will be relegated automatically, while the top sides in Leagues B and C are promoted automatically.

These play-offs will be played on an aggregate, home-and-away basis and will also take place in the March window. Had the format been in play for this year, Ireland would have had to play off against one Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Kosovo or Luxembourg to preserve their status in League B, having finished third in their group. Nations League placing is important as it determines seeding for the European Championship qualifier draw: Ireland were third seeds in the most recent draw but were deeply unfortunate to be paired with top seeds Netherlands and second seeds France. 

Elsewhere, Uefa confirmed the European Championships will remain a 24-team competition, following speculation that competition would expand to 28 teams from 2028 onwards, the edition of the tournament Ireland are bidding to co-host. 

The qualifying phase for competitions after Euro 2024 has been tweaked slightly, with an agreement that a qualifying group for either the Euros or the World Cup should contain either four or five teams, but will retain the current format in which every team plays one another both home and away. The five-team groups will kick off in March or June, with the four-team groups getting underway in September, which will turn qualifying into a much sharper sprint than is currently the case. Sides involved in the expanded Nations League quarter-finals and play-offs will not have to play qualifiers in March. 

Uefa also voted to strip Kazan of their rights to host the 2023 Uefa Super Cup, amid the ongoing exclusion of Russian teams from Uefa competitions. The game will instead be held in Athens on 16 August.

Updated at 16.50 with outcomes of Uefa Executive Committee meeting 

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