The UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying competition starts this week. Traditionally, this period in the annual football calendar is dreaded by fans who feel robbed of watching games of their favorite club teams for two weeks. Football bettors around the world also sigh after the thought of a dry period with narrowed choice of fixtures to wager on.
Not anymore – the changes in the format as of this year have made the competition much more interesting and have uncovered nice betting opportunities. This guide provides the answers to all you need to know regarding the whole EURO 2020 qualifying process.
Where is UEFA Euro 2020 taking place?
This is the first unique element of EURO 2020. For the first time in football history a major international tournament will be played in 12 different cities, situated across the whole continent, ranging from Glasgow to Baku and from Bilbao to Saint Petersburg. What impact this will have on the quality of the tournament is yet to be seen.
This is a prime example of the more than ever increasing effect of globalization. Unlike the traditional organization consisting of one or two neighbour host countries which gives a specific cultural taste to the tournament, fans worldwide will witness matches from completely diverse locations.
The effect on the national teams and players who will participate shouldn’t be underestimated. Some teams may need to travel from Baku, which is geographically in Asia and hosts group fixtures, to London for a knockout game.
The EURO 2020 winners will lift the cup in July next year in London, which hosts both semifinals and the final.
Are all EURO 2020 host countries guaranteed a place in the tournament?
Fortunately, no. It would have been very unfair to grant certain national teams the opportunity to play directly at the European Championships without needing to qualify just because one of their cities will host a few matches.
All 55 UEFA national teams will fight for the chance to take one of the 24 free spots on offer at the final tournament stage. The only adjustment UEFA made with regards to this was to prevent three of the host countries to be drawn in the same qualifying group. The purpose of that is to at least make it theoretically possible all 12 host countries to qualify. (Sorry Romania, but this seems highly unlikely – see below why)
What are the EURO 2020 qualifying groups?
There are 10 qualifying groups, split into groups containing five or six teams. Each national team plays the rest of their group twice. The top two teams from each group can celebrate as they will qualify for the final UEFA EURO 2020 tournament next summer. They will take 20 spots – simple enough. What about the remaining four spots? This is where the new, interesting and complicated part comes into effect.
How do the EURO 2020 playoffs work?
The playoffs will take place in March 2020, after the qualifying group stage is over. However, this time the participants in the playoffs won’t be determined by the best teams who fail to qualify from the group stage.
Remember the inaugural edition of the Nations League that took place in the autumn of 2018? Many fans, and even the players themselves, didn’t understand entirely what the purpose of that new tournament was.
In a nutshell, the main aim of this competition was to replace the meaningless friendlies with competitive football matches that have a significant reason to play for. That reason was a place in the EURO 2020 playoffs.
All Nations League group winners are guaranteed at least a spot in the playoffs if they fail to secure qualification through the regular group stage qualifiers that are being played this year. The main beneficiaries of this innovation are the mid and low-tier teams who otherwise rarely manage to qualify.
This was made possible as the Nations League groups were divided into four divisions based on the strength of the teams. Each division produced four teams that will contest in a playoff bracket consisting of two semifinals and a final.
The final standings of the Nations League with the current playoff participants are very nicely shown here. Yes, it’s the good old Wikipedia, but in this specific case it’s the best source available, with the standings being updated within minutes after a round of games is played which is quicker than the official UEFA website.
Unlike previous playoffs which were decided in two games, these will be played over one leg only. The first and the fourth team from each division construct one of the semifinals, while the second and the third team form the other semifinal. Each semifinal will be hosted by the team with the better record from the Nations League.
Bizarrely, the final playoff in each division will also have a host instead of being played on a neutral ground. The host is determined by a random draw prior to the playoffs. The only rational explanation for that is to prevent final playoff games being played in front of empty stadiums. It’s doubtful that a game between Georgia and Kosovo will attract many spectators if it’s played at a neutral stadium outside of these countries.
The key and most interesting part is that if one of these teams qualifies for EURO 2020 directly from the groups this year, it will relinquish its playoff place to another team – the first one from the same Nations League division that fails to qualify (look at the Wikipedia table).
For example, if Sweden qualifies directly from the group stage, Russia will take their place. But if Russia also finish in the top two in their qualifying group, then the playoff spot will go to Austria.
What are the implications for the EURO 2020 qualifiers?
All of the above may sound complicated but it actually sets the ground for very intriguing qualifying games. Obvious beneficiaries of this new system for example are Iceland. Thanks to their peak performances during the EURO 2016 and World Cup 2018 cycles, they were among the Nations League Division A teams, representing the best teams on the continent.
Nevertheless, their current level is not up to par with the European powerhouses and they were handily beaten in their Nations League group, conceding defeats with shameful results such as 0:6 and 0:3. However, even if their bad form continues this year and they fail to finish in the top two in their qualifying group, they are virtually guaranteed a playoff spot.
You would expect almost all of the Nations League Division A teams to qualify from the regular qualifiers, but this division still provides four playoff spots. This means that teams with recent shaky performances like Iceland and Poland, for instance, will at least participate in the playoffs.
Another interesting condition comes into play here. If we assume that 10 of the 12 Nations League Division A teams will qualify directly, two teams from Division B will take the two vacant playoff places. In such a case, these teams must not be among the group winners of their original division.
To continue the hypothetical example given earlier where Austria take Sweden’s place in the Division B playoffs, Wales and the Czech Republic would participate in the Division A playoffs, provided they haven’t qualified directly from the regular qualifiers, of course.
What bets can you place on the EURO 2020 qualifiers?
Having in mind all the possible scenarios like the one outlined above, there is good value in a few outright bets before the matches start this week.
You can back Sweden to finish in the top two of their group at an average price of 1.90 offered by online bookmakers. The clear favorite for the first place in this group is Spain, leaving Sweden, Norway and Romania to battle it out for the second place.
Based on recent performances, Sweden are clearly the best team of that bunch. They are quarterfinalists from the most recent World Cup last year. They also won their group in the Nations League, manhandling Russia comfortably, which themselves played in a World Cup quarterfinal.
Norway and Romania played lower quality of football over the autumn, as they were a part of the weaker Division C in the Nations League. The Norwegians in particular have a guaranteed playoff spot, so they are expected to play a little more carelessly so to speak, as they know they will have a second chance to qualify for the UEFA Euro 2020 Championships final stage.
Matchday 1 this week sees Sweden play at home to Romania and Norway play away to the Spaniards. Assuming the Norwegians will lose that game, if Sweden manage to beat Romania at home, they will put a firm hand on that top two finish from the beginning. I expect these odds of 1.90 to decrease after the first round of fixtures, so that price is good value before the qualifying competition gets underway.
There is also great value in backing Albania to finish top two in their group at a current average price of 15.0 (14/1 fractional or +1400 Moneyline). Although their current form is not the same as four years ago when they qualified for EURO 2016, they are still a solid team.
France will comfortably take the top spot in the group, leaving Albania, Turkey and the aforementioned Iceland to compete for the second place. We already discussed the downward trend in the Icelanders’ performances and the virtually secure playoff spot they have. This may influence them and it won’t be surprising to see them out of the top two in November.
Turkey, on the other hand, are in some kind of a transition period. They are nowhere near the level they were showing in the previous decade when they played in European and World Cup semifinals. Their performances in the Nations League were not convincing and, as a result, they were relegated to Division C. According to the bookmakers, Turkey and Iceland are with identical chances to finish in the top two at 1.80 each, leaving Albania a distant underdog in this race.
Despite that, the first match this week sees Albania host Turkey. They have a chance to clinch a positive result from that game, after which they play away to Andorra, and at the same time Iceland are away to France. This provides a good opportunity to the Albanians to gain a 3-point and psychological advantage over their rivals after the second round of fixtures.
Even if you don’t believe they will make it, you could cash out your bet after Matchday 2 if things fall into place and your online bookmaker allows that. A price of 15.0 is just too good to pass on here in my opinion. A wager equal to your minimum-size bet is worth a try.
EURO 2020 Qualifiers Betting
Do you still think that Euro 2020 qualifiers are boring and a waste of time? Think again. Combining an analytical approach and research before the games together with the new Euro 2020 qualifying landscape due to the revamped playoff system is a good environment for some shrewd sports bets.
In the Euro 2020 section of the site you will find regular updates about the development of the qualifying groups, together with some betting picks which represent my own view. See you around!
Please note that odds vary. The odds mentioned here are correct at the time of writing.