England are now assured of their qualification to the last 16 of EURO 2020. At worst, they will finish as one of the four best third-placed teams - at best, they can win their group. The permutations are a little bit more complicated than that, though, and it's hard to say what result tonight will give England the best last-16 draw.
England take on the Czech Republic at Wembley on Tuesday night at 8pm. Simultaneously, the other group game between Croatia and Scotland will kick-off in Glasgow. Here is a quick reminder of how the group standings look.
The Czech Republic and England have already qualified, while Croatia and Scotland can both join them if things go their way. No-one's final position in the group is set in stone. Though there are pluses and minuses to each option, it is still in England's best interests to win their group - and we'll explain why below.
Permutations for England to win the group
It's a fairly simple equation for England tonight: a win against the Czech Republic is all that will do to take top spot in the group. Both sides go into the game on four points, but the Czech Republic have a superior goal difference, meaning England need to win to overhaul the Czechs in the group table.
If England do that, they will progress to the last 16 as group winners. The advantages of finishing top of the group for England are that they will get an extra day's rest and that the game will take place on home soil at Wembley. They would also have Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell back, after their COVID-enforced isolation comes to an end.
I’m absolutely gutted to have to miss tonight’s game. I’ll be cheering on the boys as usual and ensuring that I’m ready to go again when called upon. Come on @England!
— Mason Mount (@masonmount_10) June 22, 2021
There is one catch, though - England would face the team that finishes runners-up in Group F, likely to be one of France, Germany, or Portugal. Hungary do stand an outside chance of finishing second if they hammer Germany on Wednesday night, but that is unlikely. Gareth Southgate will be feeling nervous about the possibility of facing any of the three contenders from Group F.
If England win the group, their last 16 tie would take place on June 29th at 5pm at Wembley in London.
Permutations for England to finish second in the group
A draw against the Czech Republic will see England finish in second place in Group D. The Czechs have a goal difference of +2 after their 2-0 win over Scotland, while Raheem Sterling's winner against Croatia remains the only goal England have scored in the tournament so far.
— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) June 13, 2021
England can also finish second in Group D even if they lose. If Croatia v Scotland finishes in a draw, England are guaranteed a top-two finish. Similarly, if Croatia win then England are guaranteed second place.
If England finish second in Group D, they will face the runners-up of Group E in the last 16. That group is finely poised, with only Sweden guaranteed qualification to the second round. This draw would see England face one of Sweden, Slovakia, Poland, or Spain on June 28th at 5pm in Copenhagen.
Permutations for England to finish third in the group
This is the least likely scenario today, but it is still a possibility. England will finish third if they lose to the Czech Republic, Scotland beat Croatia, and there is a four goal swing in goal difference (i.e., England lose by two and Scotland win by two).
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) June 21, 2021
It is very unlikely England will finish third in their group, but it is worth entertaining the notion. The system for ranking the third placed teams in the tournament is complicated, meaning the last-16 lineup will be decided based on which groups the four third placed teams come from.
This means that England would be kept waiting until the final round of matches to learn who their opponents in the last 16 would be, as well as when and where the match would take place.
UEFA's official guidelines on the last 16 games state that there are still three last-16 ties that the third placed team from Group D could play in. The first is against the Netherlands in Budapest on June 27th at 5pm. The second is against Belgium that same day at 8pm in Seville.
The third option seems the most enticing for England - June 29th in Glasgow at 8pm, giving them the longest possible recovery time before they take to the field in the final round of 16 game.
The potential quarter-final paths
England are guaranteed their place in the knockouts but, given they were considered many people's favourites before the tournament, they will already be looking ahead to see which quarter-final path they will end up on.
Lot of rubbish about whether @England i better off losing for easier last 16 game. You play to win every game. Winning gives confidence. If you’re scared of playing France/Germany you’ve got no chance of winning the tournament anyway. Let’s stop being so bloody cautious. Attack!
— Gary Lineker 💙 (@GaryLineker) June 22, 2021
If England win their group and progress from the last 16, they will play either the winner of Group E or 3rd place from Group B/C/D in the quarter-finals. That game would take place in Rome on the 3rd of July at 8pm. Though it would not be ideal to play one of France, Germany or Portugal in the last 16, the best team England would be able to face in the quarters here would be Spain. This game would also be a possibility for England if they finished third in their group.
If England finish second in their group and progress from the last 16, they will play either the winner of Group F or the 3rd placed team from Group A/C (either Switzerland or Ukraine). That game would take place in Saint Petersburg at 5pm on July 2nd. Though they would avoid any of the "group of death" sides in the second round, they would be faced with a long trip to Russia to more than likely face one of them in the quarters.
Summary of the combinations
England win the group
Advantages: Home advantage; Mount and Chilwell return; full week's break; safer quarter-final opponents if they progress
Disadvantages: Tough draw vs one of Portugal, France, or Germany
England finish second in the group
Advantages: "Easier" draw vs the runner-up of Group E
Disadvantages: Shorter break; travel to Copenhagen; tougher potential quarter-final opponents
England finish third in the group
Disadvantages: Uncertainty; long-distance travel a possibility; would be up against a group winner; potential for a five-day turnaround