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UEFA Change To U21 Euros Qualifying Structure Is Great News For Ireland

UEFA Change To U21 Euros Qualifying Structure Is Great News For Ireland
By Gary Connaughton
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While the Republic of Ireland have experienced plenty of underage success in the past, the country has never qualified for an U21 European Championships.

It's fair to say that level was often disregarded in previous years, a mindset that has certainly now been changed. The current crop of U21 players are the most talented we have had in quite some time.

Stephen Kenny led them to this point on their qualification journey, playing some stunning football along the way. With Jim Crawford now in the driving seat after Kenny's move to the senior team, the U21s are in a fantastic position to reach the finals in Hungary and Slovenia next year.

Ireland head into Tuesday's fixture against Italy in an enviable position, with a UEFA change to the qualifying structure leaving them with an even better chance of playing in a first U21 Euros.

Under the previous structure, each of the nine group winners, as well as the best second placed side, would automatically qualify. The eight remaining group runner-ups would go into the play-offs, with four advancing to the finals. Hungary and Slovenia already qualified as hosts.

However, the play-offs have now been scrapped. Influenced by the coronavirus pandemic and the potential headache provided by extra fixtures, the qualification places will now be decided based solely on the final group standings.

Now, the nine groups winners and the five best second-placed sides go straight into the finals.


This is good news for Ireland.

Jim Crawford's side currently sit top of their qualifying group, three points ahead of Italy having played a game more.

Italy's game in Iceland was postponed yesterday after two members of their squad tested positive for Covid-19, but they are optimistic that next week's fixture will go ahead as planned.


A win for Ireland in that one would leave them in a fantastic position, but even a loss would be far from a disaster.


Only one of second-placed team from the other eight groups can better Ireland's current point tally, meaning that should they lose to the Italians, they will still be in an excellent position to qualify.


Their two remaining fixtures will be at home to Iceland and away to Luxembourg. Both games will take place next month.

For the purpose of finding the best second-placed teams, results against the sixth-placed team in every group are discounted from the final tallies, so that every nation has played the same amount of games (one group has only five teams).

That is likely to be Luxembourg, so the points against them will not count in that tally. However, a win will be needed in that game to have a chance of topping the group.


This is how all the second-placed sides currently rank.

Ireland would sit on 13 points from six games with a goal difference of +6, putting them in fourth place with a game in hand on some teams above them. In other words, a strong position.

A victory against Iceland at home will be key. A win in that game should be enough to secure a place in next summer's finals, regardless of a result in the Italy game.


Here's a quick summary:

Ireland will be guaranteed to top the group if they:

  • Win in Italy and pick up four points over the remaining two games
  • Draw in Italy and better Italy's results in the last two games (assuming Italy beat Iceland)



To qualify as one of the best second-placed teams:

  • Even if they lose to Italy, a win against Iceland should be enough to see them through as one of the five best runner-ups

In all, it's looking pretty good.

SEE ALSO: Ireland Coach Condemns Abuse Directed At Midfielder Alan Browne

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