Euro 2020: How do you qualify for the knockouts after finishing third? How many points is enough?

Since Euro 2016 you’ve needed to get your abacus out to decipher how to get out of the group stages – we’ve worked out everything on what third-placed teams need to qualify.

If you do finish third in your Euro 2020 group in what is still a relatively new set-up, statistically it’s harder to get knocked out than it is to qualify for the last 16 – four of the six teams who will finish third will make it into the next round.

But it may be a while before we are certain of their identity: Whoever finishes third in Group A may have to wait until Group F have played their final game to know once-and-for-all whether they are through or not.

After all, goal difference ended up playing a key role in deciding who went through and who went home five years ago, so fine margins will likely be the order of the day in deciding who keeps their tournament run alive.

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What’s the current state of play?

Like a lot of things with the new system, it’s difficult to predict what the current situation is until the end of every matchday, the only time every team in the third-placed rankings has played the same number of games.


But it’s always fun seeing what you’re up against – and here’s the latest live table of how the teams currently sit, and who’s done enough to make it into the next round.

From the three groups which have now finished, only Switzerland are assured of qualification, as their four-point haul is better than that of both Ukraine and Finland‘s three in the other two completed groups.

France, Sweden and England are also guaranteed a spot in the last 16 as they could still finish third in their respective groups, but have all collected four points so far.

How does it work again?

The six teams finishing third across Groups A to F will have their respective results collated into a one-off table. The teams with the worst and second-worst records will go home, while the four remaining teams will progress to the last 16.

As with the normal group tiebreaker, if points are level then goal difference, goals scored and so on will come into play to determine who makes it through. That’s exactly what happened at Euro 2016, where Albania and Turkey missed the cut due to their inferior goal difference compared to Northern Ireland and Portugal – who would go on to win the competition.

What should be enough to go through?

Going by Euro 2016, three points and a positive goal difference would guarantee a spot in the knockout stages.

Historically, going back to the first Euros tournament after three points for a win was incorporated, at Euro 1996 all four third-placed teams picked up four points, which would set a high threshold in this year’s tournament. At the other end of the scale, at Euro 2004 Italy and Spain picked up five and four points respectively, but Croatia and Germany both finished on two.

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So there’s no hard-and-fast guarantee, certainly. But as a general rule of thumb, four points should be enough to see you through, so long as you don’t take a pasting in one game to ruin your goal difference.

Who plays whom in the last 16?

The knockout system is pretty complicated during the group stages, as there’s no guarantee of who plays who in the last 16 until we know which groups will have three teams qualify.

There were 15 different possible combinations of third-placed teams going through at the start of the tournament, that’s now been reduced to just seven, but for now we can still only say this…

Sunday June 27

Netherlands vs third-placed side from Group D/E/F; Kick-off 5pm (Budapest)

Belgium vs third-placed side from Group A/D/E/F; Kick-off 8pm (Seville)

Monday June 28

Group F winners vs third-placed side from Group A/C; Kick-off 8pm (Bucharest)

Tuesday June 29

Group E winners vs third-placed side Group B/C/D; Kick-off 8pm (Glasgow)

So that’s the winners of Group B (Belgium), Group C (Netherlands), Group E (Spain, Sweden, Slovakia, Poland) or Group F (France, Portugal, Germany, Hungary) who await in the last 16. Ouch.

Those four winners won’t be guaranteed to know their opposition until the final group games are finished, but of the possible combinations left, some appear more commonly than others. With that in mind, Belgium are most likely to play either the third-placed side in groups A or E, Netherlands against the third-placed side in groups D or F.

The winners of Group E will likely come up against the third-placed side in group B or C, with the Group F winners most likely opponent the third-placed side in group A.

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