Football fans often know their tournaments and how all of them work. Depending on the tournament, league or even iteration of a tournament, things may change so much that even those who know everything about the tournament might end up knowing nothing.
The UEFA European Championship isn’t different in this regard. Over the years, it has changed in many ways, that people who remember its inception might see a different tournament today. What this means is that with almost every iteration of a tournament, people should remind themselves of the rules in order not to have fits of rage when their country fails to qualify for a reason which seems completely wonky.
Here is everything you need to know about the UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifiers and how they work.
Hosts Are not Automatically Drawn into the Tournament
This is a point of controversy because each of the previous Euros had the host countries as one of the participants in the main event. The UEFA EURO 2020 will be different in this regard, given that no host country will get an automatic place. One of the reasons behind this decision is that it will be hosted by more than a single country, as it had been in the previous years. The 2020 Euros will be hosted by multiple countries, in other words, it will be a pan-European tournament.
Whether this robs the host countries of their “rightful” spot at the tournament is a story of its own. There have been plenty of years when host countries didn’t do that well in the tournament, not even making it to the play-offs. While this still seems ungrateful to the hosts who will be spending lots of money on hosting the events (but also earning lots of money through tourists and exposure), it has its upsides.
Playing More Games Means More Practice
While to some, host countries having to qualify for the tournament like everyone else means that they have been robbed of their traditional spot in the tournament, others see it as an opportunity to practice.
Having more games on stage, or rather, games which actually mean something, will test the teams, even the host teams. Being a host and not qualifying is better than automatically qualifying and not even getting out of groups. For the hardcore fans, having their host countries qualify means that they, like everyone else, will have to pass the trial to enter the tournament.
How do the Qualifiers Work?
Today’s tournament is a bit different than the tournament in 1960, the first one. At that time, only four teams participated in the main event, of the 17 that were battling for it. That was an entirely different tournament, though still followed closely by many fans. The tournament expanded to 8 teams starting from 1980. That had its merits, but given how there were many more good teams as more countries started taking football seriously, it was expanded to 16 teams in 1996.
That was not enough for the hardcore UEFA EURO fans so it was again expanded to 24 teams. Take note that the number 24 refers to the teams which pass the qualifiers to get to the main event. For the EURO 2020, 55 teams entered the qualifying rounds. They are divided into 5 groups of 5 teams and 5 groups of 5 teams. The best two teams out of each group will proceed to the main event, or rather, the finals, while the four remaining teams will be decided through the qualifying play-offs.
This is where the rules start changing compared to previous tournaments. Previously, based on their performance in the qualifying group stage, teams were selected to battle it out for the last four places in the main event. 16 teams were selected and they had to play for the last four places.
For the 2020 Euros, the teams’ performance in the group stage matches will not influence their spot in the qualifying play-offs, but rather their previous performance at the 2018-2019 Europa Nations’ League. This rule impacts the qualifying play-offs a lot, because plenty of things can change during an entire season.
Regardless, the best 16 remaining teams who performed well at the Nations’ League will be selected for the qualifying play-offs.
The play-offs for the qualifiers are to be played in March of 2020, while the group stage of qualifiers is played from March 2019 to November 2019, so the entirety of the qualifiers is played for almost an entire year.
The seeding for the qualifying play-offs will be decided according to the ranking in the Nations’ League tournament. This does not mean that the top 16 teams will get into the play-offs. Odds are that the top teams will qualify directly for the main event, so the ranking takes into account the teams’ positions in their respective leagues, as well.
The play-offs are single-elimination matches, where 4 teams from each league battle each and the best teams from each league play a single-leg semi-finals and finals. The first team plays the fourth team at their home stadium, and the second team plays the third ranked one at their home stadium, in each of the leagues. The same format decides the semi-final and final matches, the first and fourth team playing against one another and the second and third. The finals are played by the victorious teams, of course.
Which is Better – At Tournament Results or Previous Results?
This is an ongoing debate as to which process of selecting teams for the qualifying play-offs is better. On the one hand, you have the teams’ current performance and their position in the qualifying groups. But, things are not so cut and dry, as there are always groups of death and groups of life. Groups of death are usually filled with very good teams which will be competitive to the last second of gameplay. Groups of life often have a single or two very strong teams and two who will be there to provide everyone with entertainment and bookmakers with profit. This method selects the teams who performed the best in their group, other than the top two teams. But, this method is flawed in its own way, because of the said groups. Some teams might just be one spot below the necessary one and thus may be sent home rather than to the play-offs.
The second method involves taking into account the teams’ previous performance and ranking at the Nations’ League. This means that each of the four leagues in the Nations League, from D to A, will be given 4 slots based on the teams’ rankings. Teams who qualify through the group stage for the finals will be dismissed and the next best ranked team from each of the leagues will get a spot. Each first placed team automatically gets a slot unless they qualify for the main event through the group stage of the qualifiers.
Whether one is better, or another, completely depends on your point of view. Given that the UEFA has already decided that this way of selection is here to stay for the EURO 2020, teams were of course, notified way before either of the tournaments started, both the Nations League and the EURO 2020 qualifiers. That just means that the Nations League tournament is more important than it used to be, giving everyone another competitive tournament to watch biannually. With this decision, playing in the Nations League has more impact compared to before, and fans will definitely have another reason to watch it other than national pride and love of football.
UEFA EURO Qualifiers – Better or Worse?
Given that qualifiers used to be pretty straightforward, with the best ranked teams out of each group either going to the finals or the qualifying play-offs, some consider this new innovation to complicate the entire qualifiers as a tournament.
Others think it very pleasant, giving teams another tournament where they can accumulate points and cement their position in the finals. Every team wants to win the Euros, but few get to do so more than once.
The UEFA wouldn’t have made a change so big hadn’t they thought that it would make the tournament better, as well as the route to the tournament finals. The tournament often shows whether the teams who participated deserved to be there. Waiting until the finals are over is recommended until any sort of decision is made about the change being good or bad.
The UEFA EURO 2020 tournament is going to be an exciting one, not only because of the change in the way qualifiers work, but because with each tournament, new and hungry players step up to win their national team a new trophy, or a second or even third one. As with every European Championship, the 2020 version will be entertaining in its own way. How the new qualifiers will affect the tournament is just one of the reasons why everyone has their eye on it.