I have seen the results of draw for the Euro 2020 qualifiers, and I have very little to say about them, other than Austria’s draw looks okay (they can qualify second from that group), the fight for second place in group F looks like it could be tasty, and the winners of the Netherlands vs Germany will be us, the viewing public.
The interesting thing with this draw is the set of rules UEFA are using for the draw (full rules, less well explained under the “draw details” tab here). Some of the rules make sense, some of them are more …. well, as friend L said “I fear UEFA have seen American College Football, and told them to hold their beer.”
Starting with the sensible ones, one rule says that Spain and Gibraltar can’t be drawn together, and neither can Kosovo and Serbia or Bosnia-Herzegovina (I also suspect there would be surreptitious switching if Russia and Ukraine drew each other). I can completely understand that one.
Next is the cold weather rule – a maximum of two countries at risk of severe winters can be in one group. These countries are: Belarus, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Russia and Ukraine. Again, I can understand that, cold weather increases the risk of postponement and if you have too many postponed games, the fixtures pile up at unfortunate points of the season.
Then there’s the distance rule about travel to Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Iceland because they are too far away from everyone. For each of these three countries there is a list of countries of which only one can be drawn with Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan or Iceland (the list for each country can also be found under the “draw details” tab here). Again, I can understand this one, because UEFA want atmosphere at the games and if you give fans too many far off places to travel then they’re not going to travel.
So far, so reasonably sensible.
Then we hit the rules where I am not quite sure why they’re there.
The first is to do with the host countries for Euro 2020. As I am sure you know, Euro 2020 is being hosted by many, many countries. UEFA are trying to make sure that the countries that are hosting will at least have a chance of qualifying, which again, I understand for atmosphere reasons. As the top two teams in each group qualify, no more than two host countries are allowed in each group. The host countries are: England, Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Hungary, Romania and Russia. The reason I don’t like it is that it gives some of the bigger names in European football a bit of an advantage. If you’re England, you’re glad you don’t get Germany and say Romania, because Romania are a solid and occasionally tricksy side.
However, that rule is only going to stay for Euro 2020, unless they decide to repeat the experiment for a later tournament. The rule I really don’t like and that I can’t see going (unless the entire overly-complicated Nations League tournament is overhauled) is that the Nations League finalists have to be drawn in 5 team pools. This is so they have a gap in the schedules for the Nations League final matches. Those four teams are England, Switzerland, Portugal and the Netherlands.
I don’t like this rule because the teams that will be in the Nations League final are already going to be the good teams and giving them a match off seem to be depriving a minnow of a big money match.
As per usual, I’ve seen what draw you’d get if you apply these rules to the FIFA rankings at the time of the draw. If you apply the rules to the rankings, this is the result.
Belgium get a rest match due to a lack of a 56th team, having earned it by being the top ranked European team on the FIFA rankings. Overall, the strength of the groups is similar, mostly because of the moving around that has to be done to accommodate all the rules.
Of course, depending on how the Nations League tier finals results go, there’s every chance a supercomputer is going to be required to understand who will eventually qualify, because UEFA like to overcomplicate everything.
I suspect that if the NCAA decide to expand the college football play-offs, their choices on how to do that are going to make this seem utterly logical, but then again, that might only encourage UEFA!