Euro 2020: how teams qualify for Euro 2020 and can Scotland qualify?

Scotland's quest to win a spot at a major tournament for the first time since 1998 continues tonight (Friday 6 September) with their game against Russia, followed by Monday night's (9 September) clash with Belgium.

By Ross Mcindoe
Friday, 6th September 2019, 1:12 pm
Picture: Scottish FA
Picture: Scottish FA

After tonight, we will have arrived at the halfway point in the qualification campaign, with all the teams having played each other once.

While nothing will be settled in the next four days, we will likely have a much better idea of Scotland's chances by Tuesday morning.

The great gaps in between international games can make it easy to lose track of the story so far, so here's a quick refresher on how things stand and what has to happen for Scotland to win a place at Euro 2020.

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How do teams qualify for Euro 2020?

The main qualification process is simple: the teams have been divided into 10 groups of five or six, with each side playing every other side home and away, and the top two teams gaining automatic qualification.

The first round of qualifiers were held on 21-23 March 2019 with the final games taking place on 17-19 November 2019.

However, unlike previous years, finishing in third place does not grant you a shot at qualifying via a play-off.

Instead, all of the teams that topped their groups in the Nations League will receive a play-off slot if they fail to break the top two of their Euro group.

In cases where the Nations League winners do qualify via the traditional route, their play-off spot is handed down to the next-best ranked team from their Nations League tier.

Having come out on top against Israel and Albania, Scotland are guaranteed another shot at qualifying should they fail to usurp Russia in their Euro group.

The following teams also have a Nations League safety net:

League A: Portugal, England, Switzerland, Netherlands

League B: Ukraine, Denmark, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sweden

League C: Finland, Norway, Scotland, Serbia

League D: Georgia, Belarus, Macedonia, Kosovo

How are Scotland doing?

A bit mixed, it's fair to say. While the 3-0 away defeat to World Cup bronze medallists Belgium was no great cause for concern, finding themselves on the wrong end of the same scoreline in Kazakhstan was not a good way to kick off their Euro 2020 endeavour.

However, with Steve Clarke newly installed in the dugout, they were able to slog out vital wins against San Marino (2-0) and Cyprus (2-1).

That has left them sitting in fourth place, tied on points with Kazakhstan and three points adrift of second-placed Russia.

How about the other home nations?

Having blasted five goals a-piece past Kosovo and the Czech Republic, England now sit top of their section with a game in hand.

With Bulgaria and Montenegro rounding out the group, it's hard to see England relinquishing the top spot.

Wales have only managed one victory so far after being drawn in a tricky group alongside Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia and Azerbaijan.

However, with two teams within three points of them at present, Ryan Giggs’ side will remain hopeful of turning things around in the second-half.

Having been drawn in a “group of death” alongside both Germany and the Netherlands, Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland have stormed to the top of Group C, taking maximum points from their first four games.

With the SFA having originally eyeballed O'Neill as Gordon Strachan's successor, they must surely now be wondering what might have been.

In the next group over, the Republic of Ireland are also sitting pretty with a three point lead at the top of Group D, although Denmark do possess a game in hand over them.

With six goals in five games - the lowest return rate of any group leader – they're not taking the most scenic route to Euro 2020, but their fans will be unlikely to care so long as they make it to their destination intact.

What are Scotland's chances of qualifying?

It’s hard to say, though the matter will be a lot clearer after the upcoming double-header.

Belgium have swept aside everyone so far, and would be a good bet to continue doing so all the way through, so Monday's game will arguably be more about performance than result for Clarke's team.

While losing to one of the best sides in the world would be no great tragedy, going out of the game with a whimper would further deflate a nation already badly punctured by the Kazakhstan affair.

However, the whole fixture could be rendered almost irrelevant if tonight's game goes badly.

With three points to make up against the Russians, and the spectre of an October visit to Moscow on the horizon, Scotland will need to take at least a point from the Hampden clash to have any realistic chance of claiming second place.

If they can get through the next four days with their hopes intact, then the following games – away to Cyprus and then home to San Marino and Kazakhstan – should theoretically provide a good chance to take maximum points and drive things all the way to the finish line.

Regardless of whether or not qualification is still on the line, the grudge match with Kazakhstan will likely be a highly-charged match, as Scotland seek to deal out some retribution and recover a little of the pride they left strewn across the Astana Arena field.