Lost in a maze of mathematics; INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL: As the quest to qualify for Euro '96 reaches a climax, some big names may be left out in the cold

Glenn Moore tries to make sense of Uefa's complex qualification system for the European Championship finals
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The Independent Online
It could be the calculator's finest hour. All over Europe coaches, fans and pundits will be doing their sums tonight to try and make sense of Uefa's ridiculously complex qualification process for Euro '96.

Nowhere will the arithmetic be more feverishly studied than in Rotterdam, where the Netherlands and Norway are almost certainly contesting one place between them. The Dutch must win to finish above Norway but even a victory for them, or a draw for Norway, may not ensure a place in next summer's tournament.

The formula is so complicated that Uefa only realised last week that Switzerland had qualified, three weeks after their final match. The Swiss thus became the fourth qualifiers after England (as hosts), Spain and Russia. Eleven other places will be decided tonight with the 16th place being finalised by a play-off, at Anfield, next month.

There is every chance that the Netherlands will be in that match, but first they must beat Norway.

The Dutch are the great under-achievers of world football. Only in the 1988 Championship, when Rinus Michels managed to focus their attention on destroying the opposition rather than themselves, have they won the honours their ability warranted. The Norwegians, by contrast, have maximised their potential with a functional style which is ugly but effective.

The situation is complicated by the involvement of the Czech Republic, who meet Luxembourg in Prague tonight. If the Czechs win they are through. They could even qualify - probably via a play-off - if they lost to Luxembourg and Norway beat the Netherlands.

Norway are through if they beat the Dutch, but would probably face a play-off if the match was drawn and the Czechs win. The Netherlands can only qualify by winning (unless the Czechs lose, in which case a draw would probably put the Dutch in the play-off). Even a win might not be enough - if the Czechs also won the Dutch would probably have to play- off.

Confused? No wonder. Uefa has decided that the eight group winners qualify, and the six best second-placed teams. The other two second-placed teams will play-off. However, these teams' ranking is decided by results against the first, third and fourth-placed teams in their respective groups - because Group Three is smaller than the rest.

It is so complex that Uefa will not announce the two play-off teams until Friday. A good performance in the six relevant matches is 11 points - which Scotland have. Eight or nine, as the second-placed team in the Dutch group is likely to have, will probably mean a play-off. The runners-up in the Republic of Ireland's group are likely to be the other play-off contenders, but the Romanians also have reason to worry. They are guaranteed to finish in the top two but, if they lose in Slovakia, will come second. Should Romania win, France would be second. The worst-case scenario for France is wins for Romania, Israel and Poland - which would leave them second with a trip to Liverpool guaranteed.

In Group Four, Croatia and Italy are sure to finish in the top two - but the Italians could be heading for the play-off if Slovenia beat Croatia and they lose to Lithuania. In Group Two Turkey are set to qualify for their first major tournament since 1954, even if they are beaten for the first time in 15 matches in Sweden. Scotland, Denmark, Germany and Bulgaria - who meet in Berlin - are similarly well-placed.

Euro '96: the final countdown

Group One

P W D L F A Pts

Romania 9 5 3 1 16 9 18

France 9 4 5 0 20 2 17

Slovakia 9 4 2 3 14 16 14

Poland 9 3 3 3 14 12 12

Israel 9 3 3 3 13 11 12

Azerbaijan 9 0 0 9 2 29 0

Tonight: Slovakia v Romania (4.30) (at Vseportovy stadium, Kosice); Azerbaijan v Poland (2.0) (at Avni Aker stadium, Trabzon, Turkey); France v Israel (7.45) (at Michel d'Ornano stadium, Caen).

Group Two

P W D L F A Pts

Spain 9 7 2 0 22 4 23

Denmark 9 5 3 1 16 8 18

Belgium 9 4 2 3 16 12 14

Macedonia 9 1 4 4 9 15 7

Cyprus 9 1 3 5 5 19 6

Armenia 9 1 2 6 4 14 5

Tonight: Spain v Macedonia (8.30) (at Martinez Valero stadium, Elche); Cyprus v Belgium (5.0) (at Tsirion stadium, Limassol); Denmark v Armenia (7.0) (at Parken stadium, Copenhagen).

Group Three

P W D L F A Pts

Switzerland 8 5 2 1 15 7 17

Turkey 7 4 2 1 14 6 14

Sweden 7 2 2 3 7 8 8

Hungary 8 2 2 4 7 13 8

Iceland 8 1 2 5 3 12 5

Tonight: Sweden v Turkey (6.0) (at Rasunda stadium, Solna).

Group Four

P W D L F A Pts

Croatia 9 6 2 1 20 4 20

Italy 9 6 2 1 16 6 20

Lithuania 9 5 1 3 13 8 16

Ukraine 10 4 1 5 11 15 13

Slovenia 9 3 2 4 12 11 11

Estonia 10 0 0 10 3 31 0

Tonight: Slovenia v Croatia (7.15) (at Bezigrad stadium, Ljubljana); Italy v Lithuania (7.15) (at Mirabello stadium, Reggio Emilia).

Group Five

P W D L F A Pts

Norway 9 6 2 1 17 4 20

Czech Rep 9 5 3 1 18 6 18

Netherlands 9 5 2 2 20 5 17

Belarus 10 3 2 5 8 13 11

Luxembourg 9 3 1 5 3 18 10

Malta 10 0 2 8 2 22 2

Tonight: Czech Republic v Luxembourg (7.05) (at Strahov stadium, Prague); Netherlands v Norway (7.05) (at Feyenoord stadium, Rotterdam).

Group Six

P W D L F A Pts

Portugal 9 6 2 1 26 7 20

Rep of Ireland 9 5 2 2 17 8 17

Austria 9 5 1 3 26 9 16

Northern Ireland 9 4 2 3 15 12 14

Latvia 10 4 0 6 11 20 12

Liechtenstein 10 0 1 9 1 40 1

Tonight: Portugal v Republic of Ireland (8.0) (at Stadium of Light, Lisbon); Northern Ireland v Austria (8.0) (at Windsor Park, Belfast).

Group Seven

P W D L F A Pts

Bulgaria 9 7 1 1 23 7 22

Germany 9 7 1 1 24 9 22

Georgia 9 5 0 4 12 10 15

Albania 9 2 1 6 9 15 7

Wales 9 2 1 6 8 18 7

Moldova 9 2 0 7 8 25 6

Tonight: Germany v Bulgaria (6.30) (at Olympic stadium, Berlin); Albania v Wales (1.0) (at Qemal Stafa stadium, Tirana); Moldova v Georgia (4.0) (at Republican stadium, Chisinau).

Group Eight

P W D L F A Pts

Russia 9 7 2 0 31 4 23

Scotland 9 6 2 1 14 3 20

Greece 9 5 0 4 18 9 15

Finland 9 5 0 4 17 15 15

Faroe Islands 9 2 0 7 10 30 6

San Marino 9 0 0 9 2 31 0

Tonight: Scotland v San Marino (8.0) (at Hampden Park, Glasgow); Russia v Finland (4.0) (at Luzhniki stadium, Moscow); Greece v Faroe Islands (5.30) (at OFI stadium, Heraklion, Crete).

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