Lots to play for in Ethniki’s final Nations League match against Estonia
With Greece mathematically unable to claim first place in their respective UEFA Nations League group, the Ethniki Omada will need to secure second spot in League C, Group 2 to keep their hopes alive for a spot in the UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying playoffs. AGONAsport’s Sarantos Kaperonis explains how Greece’s final match against Estonia is all but indifferent.
After failing to defeat Finland by two or more goals on Thursday, Greece’s hopes for a first place finish in League C, Group 2 of the UEFA Nations League were mathematically diminished. The Finns currently sit first in the group with 12 points, three points ahead of second placed Greece, with one game remaining in group play. However, due to Finland's better head-to-head goal differential against Greece (Finland defeated Greece by two goals while Greece only defeated Finland by one goal), the Ethniki cannot overtake the group leaders on the final matchday.
Finishing first place in the group results in promotion to League B for the 2020/21 UEFA Nations League competition and more importantly, a place in the UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying playoffs, to be held in March 2020. However, under certain circumstances, teams that fail to top their respective groups (ex. Greece) can still compete in the UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying playoffs.
Format for EURO 2020 qualifying process and UEFA Nations League role
A total of 24 teams will compete at the EURO 2020 finals, with 20 teams earning qualification via the official qualifying process while the remaining four teams will come from the qualifying playoffs. There is no host nation for EURO 2020 as the competition will take place across 13 different countries.
The official EURO 2020 qualifying process will take place from March 2019 through November 2019. The 55 UEFA nations will be split into 10 groups with each group consisting of five or six teams. The top two teams from each group will qualify for EURO 2020 (twenty teams).
The remaining four spots will come from the EURO 2020 qualifying playoffs which is where the UEFA Nations League comes into play. Unlike previous editions, the participants of the playoffs (16 teams) will not be decided based on results from the qualifying group stages (Mar 2019 - Nov 2019) but from the Nations League. The 16 teams that will compete in the playoffs will be selected based on their performance and rank in the 2018/19 UEFA Nations League. These teams will be divided into four paths, each containing four teams, with one team from each path qualifying for the final tournament (total of four teams).
First, it is important to note how teams are ranked within each league in the UEFA Nations League.
Position in group
Higher number of points
Superior goal difference
Higher number of goals scored
Higher number of goals scored away from home
Higher number of wins
Higher number of wins away from home
Disciplinary points in all group matches
Position in the UEFA national team coefficient ranking system
In League C (where Greece are placed), there are three groups of four teams and one group of three teams. In order to rank teams in leagues composed of different sized groups such as Greece’s, the following procedure applies:
The results against fourth-placed teams are not taken into account for the purposes of comparing teams placed first, second, and third in their respective groups. For Greece, results against Estonia are ruled out when considering Greece’s rank in League C.
Seeing that the ranking of teams within each league is firstly based on ‘position in their respective group,’ the four group winners within each league will automatically qualify for the EURO 2020 qualifying play-offs. As mentioned previously, there are four playoff paths separated by League (ex. League A path, League B path, etc) and thus, the four group winners from League A will play in the League A playoff-path while the four group winners from League B will play in the League B playoff-path and so on for League C and League D.
If a Nations League group winner has already qualified for EURO 2020 through the EURO 2020 qualifying process (March 2019 - November 2019), their place in the qualifying playoffs will be replaced by the next best-ranked team in the same league. However, if there are not enough teams in the same league to fill this void, then the playoff spot will go to the next best team in the overall Nations League ranking (i.e. the best team from another league will be pulled to fill the void). However, group winners cannot face teams from a higher league.
Each play-off path will feature two single-leg semi-finals, and one single-leg final. The best-ranked team will host the fourth-ranked team, and the second-ranked team will host the third-ranked team. The host of the final will be decided by a draw, with semi-final winner 1 or 2 hosting the final. The four play-off path winners will join the 20 teams which have already qualified for UEFA Euro 2020.
What this means for Greece
With Greece not able to claim first place in their respective League C group (group 2), the Ethniki will not receive an automatic place in the EURO 2020 qualifying playoffs. However, seeing that 20 teams will qualify for the EURO 2020 finals via the qualifying process, Greece could snag a playoff spot under certain circumstances (explained above). That is, of course, if Greece fail to qualify for EURO 2020 via the actual qualifying process.
With ‘position within a group’ used to rank teams within a League, it is imperative that Greece finish second in Group 2 to maximize their chances of acquiring a playoff spot. Thus, Greece’s final match against Estonia is important in achieving second place. Greece will secure second spot with a win or draw against Estonia on Sunday, or if Hungary fail to defeat Finland. Greece do hold the tie-breaker advantage over Hungary (due to an away goal scored in Budapest) and as a result, a draw will move Greece to 10 points (Hungary sit on seven currently). If Greece lose to Estonia and Hungary defeat Finland, Greece will drop to third in the group, meaning their hopes of a playoff spot will be shattered.
With a second place finish, Greece will be ranked within League C accordingly with the League’s other group runner-ups. Seeing that League C has groups of four and three teams, the matches against the last placed team in the group (Estonia) are throw out when ranking the four League C runner-up teams. Thus, when Greece host Estonia on Sunday, the result of this match will not affect their ranking amongst the other second placed teams (i.e a draw will not affect Greece in the ranking of second place teams).
If Greece finish as the best second placed team in League C (more on those scenarios in a separate article to be posted after today’s fixtures), the Ethniki will be the ‘first’ team in line to take the place of a League C group winner in the EURO 2020 qualifying playoffs. This is NOT limited to only Greece’s group winner, Finland, but includes any League C group winner. In other words, if any of the League C group winners qualify for the EURO 2020 finals via the qualifying process, the best runner-up of League C (we hope it is is Greece) will move to the EURO 2020 qualifying playoffs in that group winner’s place. Going into Saturday’s matches, Greece were ranked the second best runner-up with 6 points (results against Estonia thrown out) behind Bulgaria, but things are likely to change going into the final matchday due to various scenarios.
Although it is highly unlikely, but worth mentioning, if no other teams are available from League A or League B to fill the voids of group winners in the qualifying playoffs in the League A or League B playoff path, teams will be pulled from League C to fill the voids in higher league’s playoffs (i.e Greece could play in the League B playoffs under extreme circumstance).
Seeding for EURO 2020 qualifying draw
The UEFA Nations League placements will also determine the seeding of teams in the EURO 2020 qualifying draw set to take place on December 2nd. This further indicates the importance of Greece finishing second in League C, Group 2. Teams will be seeded for the EURO 2020 qualifying draw accordingly based on their UEFA Nations League rank:
Pot 1: Teams ranked 1–10 in UEFA Nations League overall rankings
The 10 best League A teams
Pot 2: Teams ranked 11–20 in UEFA Nations League overall rankings
The two remaining ranked League A teams
The eight best ranked League B teams
Pot 3: Teams ranked 21–30 in UEFA Nations League overall rankings
The four remaining ranked League B teams
The six best ranked League C Teams
Pot 4: Teams ranked 31–40 in UEFA Nations League overall rankings
The nine remaining League C teams
The top ranked League D team
Pot 5: Teams ranked 41–50 in UEFA Nations League overall rankings
The League D teams ranked 2nd-11th
Pot 6: Teams ranked 51–55 in UEFA Nations League overall rankings
The remaining League D teams
To get the best possible seeding in the upcoming EURO 2020 qualifying draw, Greece will look to finish as one of the best six teams in League C, to be seeded in Pot 3 for the draw. For Greece to finish as a top-6 team from League C, the Ethniki will need to finish at minimum as the second best runner-up side. Since the order of rankings is first determined by ‘position in group,’ the four League C group winners will be ranked 1st-4th in League C and the runner-ups will be ranked 5th-8th in League C. Thus, Greece will need to finish as the second best runner-up to finish as one of the top-6 teams from League C and be seeded in Pot 3 for the upcoming UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying draw.
Check back at AGONAsport.com for more on this going into the final matchday of the UEFA Nations League, inc;uding what Greece will hope for in the other groups within League C.