Euro 2020 is underway with the second group stage games wrapping up Saturday. With the way UEFA formats the European championship, teams finishing third in their group still have a shot at qualifying for the knockout round. In fact, reigning champions Portugal reached the 2016 knockout round through this method after finishing third in their group.
Teams within the same group can also finish tied on points, meaning tiebreakers are needed to determine higher seeds in the knockout round. Here’s how UEFA breaks down the tiebreaker process among the teams in the same group after the stage.
The first tiebreaker is a head-to-head point total. If one team has won against the other in the group stage, that team will have the higher standing. The next tiebreaker is goal differential in a game played between the two teams. The third tiebreaker is goals scored in the group game between the two teams.
You can see where this can get problematic if two teams drew in the group stage and are tied at the end of the round. Away goals come into the equation next and although all Euro games are “technically” neutral site contests, one team will be designated as the home team for administrative purposes. This would break a tie between two teams unless they had a goalless draw.
Group goal differential and group goals for are the next tiebreakers used in the event the first four methods don’t produce a winner. If these two methods still don’t produce a winner, you’ve got a very wacky group. Total away goals scored is the next measure and if that doesn’t split the teams, total away wins is the next tiebreaker.
In the event every group game a scoreless draw, the last tiebreaker is lowest disciplinary record. A red card is 3 points, two yellows is 3 points and a yellow is 1 point. In the event every team has carefully coordinated to rack up the same disciplinary record, position in the UEFA Nations League rankings is the absolute last tiebreaker. See, those matches do matter!
Official tiebreaker language from UEFA
“If two or more teams in the same group are equal on points on completion of the qualifying group stage, the following criteria are applied, in the order given, to determine their rankings:
- a. higher number of points obtained in the group matches played among the teams in question;
- b. superior goal difference from the group matches played among the teams in question;
- c. higher number of goals scored in the group matches played among the teams in question;
- d. higher number of goals scored away from home in the group matches played among the teams in question;
- e. if, after having applied criteria a) to d), teams still have an equal ranking, criteria a) to d) are reapplied exclusively to the matches between the remaining teams to determine their final rankings. If this procedure does not lead to a decision, criteria f) to l) apply in the order given to the two or more teams still equal;
- f. superior goal difference in all group matches;
- g. higher number of goals scored in all group matches;
- h. higher number of away goals scored in all group matches;
- i. higher number of wins in all group matches;
- j. higher number of away wins in all group matches;
- k. lower disciplinary points total based only on yellow and red cards received in all group matches (red card = 3 points, yellow card = 1 point, expulsion for two yellow cards in one match = 3 points);
- l. position in the overall UEFA Nations League rankings (see Regulations of the UEFA Nations League).