Euro 2016: How exactly does the new third place qualification system work?
The expansion of the European Championship to 24 teams meant England’s win over Wales all but guaranteed their qualification for the knockout stages.
As well as each of the six group winners and runners-up advancing to the new round of 16, the four best third-placed sides will also progress.
Roy Hodgson’s men, who have four points going into their final Group B game against Slovakia on Monday night, can now finish no lower than third in their pool.
During the three 24-team World Cups which featured a round of 16 – between 1986 and 1994 – no country with four points ever failed to reach the last 16.
Indeed, only on one occasion did a nation with three points miss out, which is good news for Wales and Northern Ireland, both of whom have one win under their belts.
At the end of the group stages, the six third-placed teams will be ranked and the two with the lowest number of points eliminated.
If two or more teams are tied on points, goal difference, goals scored, fair play and national team co-efficient – in that order – will come into play.
Having third-placed teams qualify has created a mind-boggling number of permutations about the potential last-16 match ups.
Four of the combinations are as straightforward as under the old 16-team system:
The winner of Group E (Italy and the Republic of Ireland’s group) will play the runner-up in Group D (Spain’s group); the winner of Group F (Portugal’s group) will play the runner-up in Group E; the runner-up in Group A (France’s group) will play the runner-up in Group C (Germany and Northern Ireland’s group); the runner-up in Group B (England and Wales’s group) will play the runner-up in Group F.
The other four combinations, however, are far more complex:
The winner of Group A will play the third-placed team from Group C, D or E; the winner of Group B will play the third-placed team from Group A, C, or D; the winner of Group C will play the third-placed team from Group A, B or F; the winner of Group D will play the third-placed team from Group B, E or F.
Precisely who each group winner plays will depend on which groups provide the four best third-placed teams.
There are 15 possible permutations, although – to complicate matters further – there is a greater chance of some combinations than others.
There are seven scenarios in which the winner of Group B would face the third-place team in Group A, seven in which they would face the third-placed team in Group D, but only one in which they could face the third-placed team from Group C.
That means that if England win Group B and Northern Ireland finish third in Group C, they are highly unlikely to meet in the last 16.
It is similar for the winners of Group D, with there being only one scenario in which they would face the runners-up from Group B.
However, for the winners of Group A, there are nine scenarios in which they would meet the third-placed side in Group C, and three each for those finishing third in Group D or E.
There is a same distribution for the winner of Group C, who are far more likely to take on the third-placed side in Group B than those from Group A or F.