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EURO 2020 play-off finals: preview

The remaining four spaces at UEFA EURO 2020 will be decided on Thursday 12 November when eight teams line up in the four play-off finals.

Path A: Hungary vs Iceland (20:45 CET)

Two of UEFA EURO 2016's surprise packages meet in Budapest. Iceland famously saw off England en route to the quarter-finals four years ago, and while the coach and some of the players have changed, the industry and efficiency that was their hallmark has not. Iceland's semi-final win against Romania was much more comfortable than the 2-1 scoreline suggests.

Hungary also eased through the semis, brushing aside Bulgaria 3-1, and after a disappointing 2019 Marco Rossi's side have hit a rich vein of form at just the right time. Victories over Turkey and Serbia, plus a draw in Russia, have raised hopes of a return to the stage where Hungary played perhaps the game of the tournament in 2016.

The Path A winners join Portugal, France and Germany in Group F.

Path B: Northern Ireland vs Slovakia (20:45 CET)

Slovakia have changed their coach since seeing off the Republic of Ireland on spot kicks last month, with Štefan Tarkovič taking temporary charge. Pavel Hapal departed after a run of only one win in nine matches, and two clean sheets in 14 – late goals have been their Achilles heel – but the team captained by 33-year-old Marek Hamšík were still a whisker away from automatic qualification.

Northern Ireland haven't been tearing up trees either over the past 12 months, and are seven games without a win if their impressive penalty shoot-out triumph over Bosnia and Herzegovina is classed as a draw. That semi-final saw Ian Baraclough's men introduce two late substitutes for the spot kicks – and both converted successfully. The dream of a repeat of UEFA EURO 2016 is alive.

 The Path B winners join Spain, Sweden and Poland in Group E.

Path C: Serbia vs Scotland (20:45 CET)

You have to go back to EURO '96 for the last time Scotland were at the finals – is a 25-year wait almost over? Steve Clarke's side are certainly shaping up well, overcoming Israel in the semis and riding the crest of a wave that means they come into this fixture eight matches unbeaten, their longest such streak since the mid-80s.

Scotland have been close before though, and in Serbia they face an inconsistent team that are, on their day, a match for anyone. The Serbians succeeded where so many have failed recently and kept Erling Braut Haaland quiet in the last four, while Sergej Milinković-Savić and Aleksandar Mitrović are beginning to click.

The Path C winners join England, Croatia and Czech Republic in Group D.

Path D: Georgia vs North Macedonia (18:00 CET)

Georgia have proved a tough nut to crack in recent years and neither Denmark nor Ireland could score in Tbilisi during UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying. Belarus were also kept at bay in October's semi-finals, when Georgia started like a train, built up a lead, and then blocked the tracks.

North Macedonia are on a high themselves after finishing third in a qualifying section for the first time in either EURO or World Cup history. The side, spearheaded by 37-year-old Goran Pandev, ended Kosovo's hopes in the last four and have since stretched their unbeaten sequence to six games.

The Path D winners join Netherlands, Ukraine and Austria in Group C.

Are the play-offs new?

There have been play-offs for five of the last six EUROs, starting with a one-off match between the Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland at Anfield for EURO '96. The UEFA EURO 2020 play-offs have a very different format, though. For the first time, teams had to come through more than one round and, unlike all previous editions, sides qualified to participate via the UEFA Nations League rather than the European Qualifiers.

How do the play-offs work?

The 16 UEFA Nations League group winners were guaranteed play-off places before the European Qualifiers. If they advanced via their qualifying groups, their spot went to the next best-ranked team in their league. Where a league did not have four teams to compete (such as League A), remaining slots were allocated to sides from another league, according to the overall UEFA Nations League rankings.

Source: UEFA

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