The qualification process for Euro 2020 has a few differences to the qualification process for previous European Championships. UEFA’s new qualification process has left many fans scratching their heads when trying to wrap their heads around it.
If, at some point over Ireland’s EURO 2020 qualification campaign, you have frustrated yourself with the confusion, while trying to figure out all possible ways in which Ireland can qualify, don’t worry. You are not alone. We have done our research into all possible ways in which Ireland can qualify for EURO 2020 for you. We are going to break it down for you in this piece. By the end of this article, hopefully the EURO 2020 qualification process is much clearer for you.
Traditional qualification group stage.
Firstly, as of this moment, forget about the UEFA Nations League. UEFA’s new tournament, which was introduced last year, has introduced a great deal of confusion surrounding EURO 2020 qualification. In truth, UEFA explained the implications of the Nations League on EURO 2020 qualification poorly. The Nations League will have importance on EURO 2020 qualification when we get onto discussing the playoffs. As for now, let’s look at the traditional qualification group format which is currently ongoing.
In total, there are 55 national teams participating in the qualification process for EURO 2020. The tournament will not have one sole designated host, therefore no nation is given automatic qualification to the tournament. Of these 55 national teams, just 24 of them will make it to the EURO 2020 final tournament next summer.
As you know, all 55 nations have been divided into a total of 10 qualification groups. There are 5 groups consisting of 5 teams, and 5 groups consisting of 6 teams. The teams who finish in 1st and 2nd place, respectively, in each group will qualify for the EURO 2020 tournament. 20 teams will qualify for the tournament directly through the traditional qualification group stage format.
This leaves just 4 qualification places left for the remaining teams. The final 4 qualification places will be filled via the playoffs. The playoffs will work as follows. 16 teams will be selected to participate in the playoffs. These teams will be divided into 4 separate ‘paths’. All 4 paths will equally consist of 4 teams each. The playoff paths will consist of two, single-leg semi finals. The winning team of each respective semi-final will meet in a single-leg final. The winning team of the final will win their path, and will qualify for EURO 2020.
Hopefully, nothing up to this point has been too difficult to follow. Things get more complicated when discussing how teams will qualify for the playoffs. In previous European Championships, nations qualified for the playoffs solely by their performance in the qualification group stage. For example, teams who finished in 3rd place in their qualification group, qualified for the EURO 2016 qualification playoffs.
For EURO 2020, however, performance in the qualification groups essentially becomes irrelevant at the playoffs stage. This is where teams’ performance in last year’s UEFA Nations League becomes important. In order to explain this as clearly as possible, we must firstly review how the Nations League worked.
How the Nations League, decides playoff selection.
For the Nations League, UEFA’s 55 nations were divided up into 4 separate ‘leagues’. League’s A and B consisted of 12 nations each. League C consisted of 15 nations, and league D consisted of 16 nations. The leagues were divided according to nations’ respective UEFA ranking. So, for example, the 12 highest ranked nations were divided into league A, the next 12 highest ranked nations were divided into league B, and so on.
All 4 ‘leagues’ were once again divided up into 4 ‘groups’. The teams in these smaller groups contested the Nations League group stage. This is where the Nations League becomes relevant for EURO 2020 qualification.
At the end of the Nations League group stage, each ‘league’ will have had 4 group winners. These 4 group winners, from all 4 leagues will be given automatic qualification to the playoffs, should they fail to qualify for EURO 2020 via their respective qualification group.
This format will be especially helpful in giving weaker nations an opportunity to qualify for the EURO 2020 final tournament. The 4 group winners from League D, are Georgia, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Belarus. Georgia, for example, would be unlikely to have qualified for the playoffs through the old format. They are in a qualification group with The Republic of Ireland, Switzerland and Denmark. However, they don’t need to worry as much about their performance in the qualification group now, as they will automatically qualify for the playoffs, via the Nations League.
How are EURO 2020 playoff ‘paths’ decided?
All 4 leagues will have their own individual playoff ‘path’. This means that, for example, if all four group winners from league D fail to qualify for the tournament via their qualification group, then league D’s playoff path will consist of those four teams.
If one of the league D group winners manage to qualify for the tournament via their qualification group, then their playoff place will be given to the next highest ranked league D team.
The highest ranked team in a path, will face the lowest ranked team in that path in the semi-final. The second and third highest ranked teams will contest the other semi-final in the path. The winners of each semi-final will meet in the final.
What if a Nations League group winner qualifies through their qualification group?
It is easy to see how success in the Nations League will benefit teams like Georgia. They are unlikely to qualify for EURO 2020 via their qualification group. However, the Nations League group winners from League A, are Portugal, Switzerland, England and the Netherlands. These are four strong teams. As a result, one can expect most, if not all of these teams to qualify for EURO 2020 via their respective qualification groups, thus, not needing their playoff place.
In the case that a Nations League group winner qualifies via their qualification group, their place in the playoffs will go to the next highest ranked nation in their league, who has not qualified for the tournament via their qualification group.
What if there are less than 4 teams from league A who need to compete in the playoffs?
It may not be possible to fill a leagues path, solely with teams from that league. For example, it is likely that most teams in League A will qualify for EURO 2020 via their qualification groups. If more than 8 of the 12 teams in that league qualify via their qualification group, it will be impossible to fill up league A’s path with league A teams. In this case, an extra playoff place will be provided for the next highest ranked team, who is eligible to participate in the playoffs, from league B.
A draw will take place to determine the 4 teams who will compete in the path consisting solely of league B teams. The remaining league B team(s) will compete in the path containing league A teams.
One more benefit of success in the Nations league is that Nations League group winners can not be drawn into a playoff path with nations from a higher league. This means that if 5 or more league B teams are going to be competing in the playoffs, and one of those teams won their Nations League group, that one team will automatically be drawn into the path consisting solely of league B teams.
Just tell me how The Republic of Ireland can qualify for the playoffs!
Ireland are currently sitting on top of their qualification group, Group D. As things stand, the Boys in Green will not need the playoffs to qualify for next Summer’s tournament. However, Switzerland and Denmark are also in Ireland’s group. Both of these teams will want to qualify for the tournament via Group D. On top of that, both teams are stronger than Ireland, despite Ireland’s current position in the group.
It is likely that Ireland will require the playoffs to qualify for EURO 2020. As things stand, Ireland would qualify for a playoff place, if they required one. The easy way of keeping up to date with the playoff qualification standings, is by following the current playoff standings on UEFA.com. Ireland fall into league B. As you can see on this website, there are currently only 3 league B teams who need a playoff place. As things stand the fourth place in this path will go to a league C team.
However, a lot can change between now and the final matchday of the EURO 2020 qualification group stage. Many teams currently have games in hand to play. This could change the layout of the playoffs drastically, and will undoubtedly make it even tougher to keep up with.
The Republic of Ireland are the second lowest ranked team in league B, only ranked higher than Northern Ireland.
This means that Mick McCarthy’s side would only fail to get a playoff spot if six countries from Leagues C and D qualify automatically.
Euro 2020 qualifying Group D fixtures:
Sunday September 8th
Switzerland v Gibraltar, 5.00 pm, TBC
Georgia v Denmark, 5.00 pm, Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, Tbilisi
Saturday October 12th
Georgia v Ireland, 2.00 pm, Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, Tbilisi
Denmark v Switzerland, 5.00 pm, Parken Stadium, Copenhagen
Tuesday October 15th
Switzerland v Ireland, 7.45 pm, Stade de Genève, Geneva
Gibraltar v Georgia, 7.45 pm, Victoria Stadium
Friday November 15th
Denmark v Gibraltar, 7.45 pm, Parken Stadium, Copenhagen
Switzerland v Georgia, 7.45 pm, TBC
Monday November 18th
Ireland v Denmark, 7.45 pm, Aviva Stadium
Gibraltar v Switzerland, 7.45 pm,