How Greece can finish 2nd and qualify for the playoffs

How Greece can finish 2nd and qualify for the playoffs

AGONAsport’s Sarantos Kaperonis brings you a FULL breakdown on how Greece can secure a World Cup qualifying playoff spot if the Ethniki finishes second in Group H. 

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Greece currently sit third in Group H of FIFA World Cup qualifying with 13 points, trailing second placed Bosnia, who sit on 14 points. Belgium have mathematically won the group and have qualified for the FIFA World Cup, leaving Bosnia and Greece to fight for second place from group H, which could lead to a playoff spot. 

For Greece to claim second place the scenario is simple. Greece must win their final two games away to Cyprus and at home to Gibraltar and hope Bosnia slip up (a draw will do) in ONE of their final two matches, at home to the group leaders Belgium or on the road against Estonia. These results are certainly not farfetched and Greece remain well in the running to grab second place before the end of qualifying. 

However, second spot in the group does not guarantee a place in the November playoffs. Only EIGHT out of the nine runner-ups will advance to the playoffs, where they will be paired into two-legged matches for the final four European tickets to the 2018 World Cup. Greece are currently at risk of being the runner-up that is left out of the playoff mix.

The eight best runner-ups will be decided via their results (points obtained) against the teams ranked 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th in their respective groups while the matches against the last placed team (6th) in each group will NOT count towards the runner-up standings OR goal differential. In Greece’s case, the results against Gibraltar will not count towards the runner-up standings. 

The second criteria (if points obtained is equal) will be goal differential, again taking into account only games played against the teams ranked 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th in the respective groups. The third tiebreaker is goals forced. 

Greece currently face a real threat of finishing as the worst runner-up (if they finish second in group H) and miss out on the playoffs altogether.  As of now, the Ethniki has 13 points and can reach up to 19 points if they win their final two matches. If any other runner-up team from another group surpass this 19-point threshold, they will surely finish ahead of Greece in the runner-up standings. Currently, all runner-up teams have gained maximum points against the last placed team in their respective groups, thus we will use the 19-point threshold for this basis of this breakdown. 

Below is an in-depth analysis of each group and the results that Greece need from these groups to avoid being the last placed runner-up nation. The below scenarios assume Greece win their remaining two games (they must to have any hopes of finishing as one of the top eight runner-ups) to finish second in Group H with 19 points. The term runner-up standings refers to the standings between the nine runner-up teams while the term runner-up goal differential refers to the goal differential that will be used in a tie-breaker between the runner-up teams.

At a brief look, Groups D and F seem favorable at the moment while groups A, B, E, I are more farfetched and out of reach currently. However, many things could change after matchday nine action.


Group A

1. France (17 pts)
2. Sweden (16 pts)
3. Netherlands (13 pts)
4. Bulgaria (12 pts)

Fixtures of Interest: 

  • Matchday 9: SWE - LUX; BLR - NED; BUL - FRA
  • Matchday 10: FRA - BLR; NED - SWE

Current Situation: France lead the group with 17 points and with wins against Bulgaria (away) and Belarus (home) in their final two fixtures, they will win the group. Sweden and the Netherlands will likely fight for second place (outsiders are Bulgaria). The last placed team will either be Belarus or Luxembourg, which will play a critical role in the “runner-up” standings.

What Greece needs: 

  • First, for France to win the group and have Sweden and the Netherlands fight for second place.
  • Second, Sweden to not surpass 19 points, which translates to three points or less from two matches 
    • Let's assume that France win their two remaining games and win the group
    • Then, both Sweden (v Luxembourg) and Netherlands (@ Belarus) win on matchday 9; Greece then need Netherlands to defeat Sweden on the final matchday, which would put both the Netherlands and Sweden tied on 19 points. In this case, second place of group A would go to the team with the better overall goal differential.
    • If this happens, Greece wants the lowest possible goal differential for both the Netherlands and Sweden for the runner-up standings. Thus, it would be best if Sweden and Netherlands win by the lowest possible margins against Luxembourg and Belarus on matchday nine (both teams could finish last).

Outlook: There is a lot going on in this group from who will the group, to who will finish last. After matchday 9, we will have a much better understanding of this group and how it will affect Greece. However as of now, it looks as if Sweden will finish 2nd and ahead of Greece in the “runner-up” standings.

Group B

The runner up from Group B is mathematically ensured a place in the playoffs. (Portugal or Switzerland) 

Group C

1. Germany (24 pts)
2. Northern Ireland (19 pts)

Fixtures of Interest: 

  • Matchday 9: NIR - GER
  • Matchday 10: NOR - NIR

Current Situation: Germany only need one point to win the group from their final two matches, Northern Ireland (away) and Azerbaijan (home). Northern Ireland will surely claim second place behind Germany.  San Marino will be the last placed team from the group.

What Greece needs:

  • Northern Ireland MUST lose their remaining two matches at home to Germany and on the road against Norway. If Northern Ireland picks up one point from either match, they will surpass the 19-point threshold and mathematically qualify for the playoffs.
    • It would benefit Greece if Northern Ireland lost by more than one goal in either game
  • If Northern Ireland do lose both games, goal differential will be the decider in the runner-up standings (not taking into account the respective group’s last placed teams). Northern Ireland are currently at +7 while Greece sit at +3. For Greece to finish second, they must defeat Cyprus bringing their goal differential surely to +4 while Northern Ireland must lose both games by a total of four goals, bringing their goal differential down to +3 (two 2-0 losses will suffice).

Outlook: This group has some potential for Greece, however for Northern Ireland to lose both matches seems to be a difficult, but not an impossible scenario. If Northern Ireland fall to Germany this weekend, all eyes for Greece will be on the matchup between Norway versus Northern Ireland on the final matchday.  

Group D

1. Serbia (18 pts)
2. Wales (14 pts)
3. Ireland (13 pts)

Fixtures of Interest: 

  • Matchday 9: AUT - SRB; GEO - WAL; IRE - MDA
  • Matchday 10: WAL - IRE; SRB - GEO

Current Situation: Serbia only need to win one of their final two fixtures (@ AUS, v GEO) to clinch first place in the group, meaning Wales and Ireland will fight for second place. The deciding fixture will be when Wales hosts Ireland on the final matchday. Moldova will likely finish last in the group.

What Greece needs:

  • First, for Serbia to win the group
  • Second, for Wales to NOT win their remaining two games away to Georgia or at home to Ireland. If Wales win both games, they will finish ahead of Greece. 
  • If Wales drop points in either game (a draw will do), Greece will finish ahead of them in the runner-up standings as they cannot reach the 19-point threshold. 
    • If Ireland manage to defeat Wales on the final matchday (away), they will be tied with Greece in the runner-ups standings and the tie-breaker will come down to runner-up goal differential. Greece has the upper hand as they currently sit at +3 and Ireland at +1. A reminder, Ireland’s match against last placed Moldova on matchday nine will not affect their runner-up goal differential as Moldova are the last placed team in the group. Thus, only goals scored against Wales on the final matchday will count towards Ireland’s runner-up goal differential.

Outlook: This group looks to be the most inviting in the fight for a playoff spot. Wales have two very difficult fixtures (must win both) while Ireland’s only hope of surpassing Greece is a big win over Wales (2-3 goals) on the road. All eyes will be on Wales’ match away to Georgia on Friday with hopes of a slip up from Wales. 

Group E

1. Poland (19 pts)
2. Montenegro (16 pts)
3. Denmark (16 pts)

Fixtures of Interest: 

  • Matchday 9: ARM - POL; MNE - DEN
  • Matchday 10: POL - MNA; DEN - ROU

Current Situation: Poland lead the group with 19 points and are the clear favorites to automatically qualify for the World Cup. Second place will be a fight between Montenegro and Denmark, who are tied on 16 points, and matchup next in Podgorica. The last placed team will likely be Kazakhstan.

What Greece needs:

  • First, for Poland to win the group
  • Second, neither Montenegro nor Denmark to rack up four points from their remaining two matches (will surpass 19-point threshold).
    • The two teams face off on matchday nine in Podgorica. A draw in this game would mean that a win from either team on matchday 10 (POL-MNE and DEN-ROU) would secure the runner up from this group a playoff berth. However, if both teams drop points also on matchday 10, Greece will finish ahead of either team in the runner-up standings.
    • If Montenegro win, they must LOSE to group leaders Poland on matchday 10, meaning they would finish tied with Greece in the runner-up standings (tie-breaker would be goal difference). However, if at the same time Denmark defeat Romania on matchday 10, they could very well surpass Montenegro on goal differential and claim second spot in their respective group. For Greece, it is more beneficial for Montenegro to finish second as their runner-up goal differential is +3 (same as Greece) while Denmark’s is +6. 

Outlook: This is also a very complicated group, however things will clear up after Montenegro and Denmark matchup this weekend. The result of that match (draw looks to be the best result) will decide what Greece needs on matchday 10 of World Cup Qualifying. Although Greece can surpass the runner-up from group E, the outlook is not favorable at the moment.  

Group F

1. England (20 points)
2. Slovakia (15 pts)
3. Slovenia (14  pts)
4. Scotland (14 pts)

Fixtures of Interest: 

  • Matchday 9: ENG - SVN; SCO - SVK
  • Matchday 10: SVK - MAL; SVN - SCO

Current Situation: England will likely win this group and Slovakia, Slovenia, and Scotland will fight for second place. Malta will be the last placed team in this group.

What Greece needs:

  • Neither Slovakia, Slovenia, nor Scotland can win their remaining two fixtures. If any one of these nations does, they will claim second place in their group and finish ahead of Greece.
  • On matchday nine it would be favorable if:
    • England defeat or tie Slovenia
    • Slovakia not to defeat Scotland. However, the best result here is a Scotland victory and not a draw as long as Scotland DOES NOT defeat Slovenia (away) on the final matchday.
  • If Slovakia rack up four points from their remaining two matchday (@ SCO, v MAL) they will likely claim second place and tie with Greece in the runner-up standings. Currently Slovakia sit on a +6 runner-up goal differential, greatly ahead of Greece’s +3. 

Outlook: This is another group where Greece will turn to avoid a last place runner-up finish. There are many scenarios at play here and matchday nine results will clarify many things in this group. Things remain very open for Greece in group F and for now, let's hope England defeat or draw Slovenia and Scotland defeat or at least draw Slovakia. If this happens, Greece will have a favorable chance on matchday 10.

Group G

The runner up from Group G is mathematically ensured a place in the playoffs. (Spain or Italy) 

Group I

1. Croatia (19 points)
2. Iceland (16 pts)
3. Turkey (14  pts)
4. Ukraine (14 pts)

Fixtures of Interest: 

  • Matchday 9: CRO -FIN; TUR - ISL; KOS - UKR
  • Matchday 10: UKR - CRO; FIN - TUR; ISL - KOS

Current Situation: Everything remains very open in this group, but as it stands, Croatia are the favorites to win the group while Iceland, Turkey, and Ukraine fight for second. Kosovo will be the last placed team in the group.

What Greece needs:

  • First, for Croatia to win the group
  • Neither Iceland, Turkey, or Ukraine can surpass 19 points. That translates to this:
    • Iceland must lost to Turkey on matchday nine assuming that Iceland will likely defeat last placed Kosovo at home on the final matchday
    • Turkey must defeat Iceland, but then fail to win on the road against Finland on the final matchday
    • Assuming that Ukraine will defeat last placed Kosovo on matchday nine, they cannot defeat Croatia at home on the final matchday. 

Outlook: A lot needs to happen for Greece to finish ahead of the runner-up from Group I, although it is not impossible. First things first, Turkey must defeat Iceland on matchday nine for Greece to have any hopes from this group. If this happens, then a few more results in Greece’s favor on the final matchday could very well see Greece leave behind the runner-up from Group I. 

Are you confused? Message us for any questions. Lots to watch on the final two matchdays of World Cup Qualifying. All the action can be watched on the AGONAsport Premium sports package here.


by Sarantos Kaperonis

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