UEFA Nations League vs Euros – What’s The Difference?

The Euros and UEFA Nations League are 2 of the more popular continental football competitions for national teams that are from Europe.

Since they are both competitions that are hosted by UEFA, how are they different from each other?

Here’s what you need to know:

The difference between UEFA Nations League and Euros

The Euros involves the top 24 teams in UEFA, and it helps to determine the best European national team. It is the most prestigious European national team competition.

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Meanwhile, the UEFA Nations League involves all 55 national teams of the UEFA member nations.

Commenced in 2018, the Nations League is aiming to develop football in the ‘weaker’ countries that are found in the UEFA region and provide another competitive platform for national teams.

Other federations have followed UEFA’s footsteps and established a Nations League competition of their own. These include: 

Here is a further comparison between these 2 competitions:

Number of teams involved

24 nations are involved in the Euros. All of these 24 teams are UEFA member nations and must qualify for the tournament via the Euro qualifiers. 

Unlike other continental competitions, UEFA does not allocate guest slots to foreign countries.

Meanwhile, the UEFA Nations League consists of 55 teams from European countries, where they are all member countries of UEFA. Thus, no qualification rounds are necessary for participation.

Some of the top countries in Europe include:

  • Germany
  • Spain
  • Portugal
  • England
  • France

Frequency and duration of competition

The Euros is held once every 4 years, while the UEFA Nations League is held every 2 years. Since its inauguration in 1960, the Euros has been hosted in several countries across Europe. 

However, the last edition, Euro 2020, was co-hosted in several countries across the continent to honour the competition’s 60th anniversary. Thus, Euro 2020 was hosted in 11 different countries.

All of the matches are played within a month.

The next UEFA Nations League tournament will begin in June 2022, and will end in June 2023. As such, the matches will spread out across a year.

The league phase matches will be contested from June – September 2022, while the finals will be contested in June 2023.

UEFA will select the Nations League finals host from the top four countries.

Format of competition

For the Euros, the 24 teams are divided into 6 groups, each containing 4 teams.

The Group winners, runners- up and the best four third-placed teams will advance to the knockout rounds, starting with the round of 16.

Portugal was among the best third placed-teams from Euro 2016, they later won the tournament.

For the UEFA Nations League, all national teams are allocated into leagues based on their UEFA national team coefficients and later adjusted via their Nations League performance rankings:

League A4 groups of 4 teams
League B4 groups of 4 teams
League C4 groups of 4 team
League D2 groups (one with 4 teams, another with 3 teams)

Countries in separate leagues can move upwards or downwards due to their performances in the tournament. The Promotion-Relegation system for the Nations League works as follows:

League A1st place advance to playoff finals 4th place to League B
League B1st place to League A4th place to League C
League C1st place to League B4th place teams contest
Relegation playouts for League D
League D1st place to League CNo relegation

This means that League A will contain the teams that performed the best.

Winners of the previous season’s League B now advance to League A

By this format, a team can gradually progress from League D to league A.

Although the journey will be hard, it is still possible!

The UEFA Nations League takes the place of international friendlies which usually happen throughout the football season. As such, it provides a way for countries, especially the ‘weaker ones’, to sharpen their competitive edge.

UEFA Nations League also provides an avenue for automatic Euro qualification.

Presence of Third Place Match

In the UEFA Nations League, the two teams that were knocked out in the semi-finals will contest for the third place and ultimately a spot in the next Euros.

Italy beat Belgium in 2021 to clinch a third-place finish in the Nations League finals.

Meanwhile, the third-place match has been axed from Euros since the 1980 edition.

Czechoslovakia thumped Italy in Euro 1980 for the last ever third-place match in the tournament’s history.

Number of matches played

Italy won the Euro 2020 and contested a total of 7 matches along their glorious run.

If your country reaches the Euros final, a number of 3 matches are played in group stages and the other 4 are in the knockout stage (quarter-finals, semi-finals and final).

France won the 2021 UEFA Nations League after winning their two matches in the finals and contesting another 6 matches in the group stages – a total of 8 matches.

In the Nations League, 6 matches are played in the group stages and the other 2 are the semi-final and the final.

EurosUEFA Nations League
Group stages3 matches6 matches
Knockout stages4 matches (Round of 16,
Quarter Finals, Semifinals & Final)
2 matches (single-legged
Semifinals and final )

Squad size

Both the Euros and the Nations League have the same rules for the squad size of each team. The maximum number of players in a team is 23.  

However, countries participating in the Euros are allowed to have up to 26 players but only 23 must be on the matchday list.

Qualification for Competition

All 55 UEFA member countries automatically qualify for the Nations League. These countries are allocated to the different leagues (A, B, C, and D) based on their current results, as well as those of the previous tournament.

Meanwhile, the Euros participants are determined via Euros qualifiers, which helps to select 24 national teams from the 55 teams. 

Scotland secured their place at Euros 2020 after winning a decisive playoff game against Serbia on penalties.

The qualifying rounds have witnessed several upsets as top nations, regardless of their Nations League or FIFA rankings, may not make it to the Euros.

Rewards for winning competition

If you win both the UEFA Nations League and Euros, it will not guarantee you a spot in the FIFA World Cup Group Stages. Instead, the placements in the World Cup are determined by the European World Cup Qualifiers.

The Euros 2020 champions, Italy, failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup after crashing out in the World Cup Qualifiers Playoff Round against North Macedonia.

The winner of Euros will be crowned as the Continental Champion of the UEFA region and will be awarded a prize of around 34 million pounds

European Champions lift the prestigious Henri Dalaunay trophy, and keep the silverware for four years until it is returned for the next edition. This is why Eder, Portugal’s hero at Euro 2016, presented the trophy at the next edition’s final

Players and coaching staff of the winning country are also awarded with gold medals. In addition, the country’s name and year of triumph are engraved on the trophy.

The record for the most Euros triumphs is jointly held by Germany & Spain, with 3 titles each.

Meanwhile, the winners of the UEFA Nations League will not ‘get much prestige‘ as ultimately, the competition pales in comparison to the Euros.

In fact, the finalists and third-place teams of the Nations League will gain automatic qualification to the next edition of the Euros. 

As usual, the players and coaches will also be awarded with the trophy in addition to receiving gold medals. Nations League Champions will also receive a sum of 20 million pounds in prize money.

Since its recent commencement, Portugal & France have both won one edition each. 


Here is a summary of the comparison between these 2 competitions:

EurosUEFA Nations League
Number of Countries2455
Frequency of CompetitionEvery 4 yearsEvery 2 years
Duration of Competition1 month1 year
Format of CompetitionGroupstages + Knockout Round
(Round of 16)
Home & Away Groupstages +
Knockout Round (Semifinals)
Third Place MatchNo Yes
Number of matches
(max. for the winner)
Squad Size2323
QualificationEuros QualifiersAll 55 member countries can participate 
Rewards for winning competitionChampions of Europe
34 million pounds prize 
Symbolic trophy
20 million pounds prize


Both the UEFA Nations League and the Euros Championship are competitions for the national teams in EuropeWhile the Euros winner gets the prestigious title of the best team in Europe, the Nations League helps to provide a more competitive nature to European teams.

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