Why winless Iceland are in Euro 2024 play-offs and 10-point Norway are not

Iceland flunked the Nations League while Norway flew, but only one have earnt a place in the Euro 2024 play-offs as result – and it’s not Norway

Lawrence Ostlere
Friday 24 November 2023 05:53 GMT
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The Euro 2024 play-offs offer one last chance for European nations to reach next summer’s major tournament in Germany. The three remaining spots will be contested by 12 teams in the play-offs in March, but how those dozen teams were decided is complicated, and contentious too.

The 2022/23 Uefa Nations League standings were used to select those 12 teams, with four each entering the play-offs from Nations Leagues A, B and C, setting up three paths to three different finals, for the chance to reach the Euros.

By way of a reminder, each Nations ‘League’ contained four groups of four (other than League D, but let’s not get bogged down in that now). So that’s 12 groups in Leagues A, B and C, and each group winner received a pass to the play-offs. However, if a group winner made Euro 2024 automatically, through regular qualifying, the country in their Nations League with the next highest points tally would take up their play-off spot.

So, Serbia topped Group B4 with 13 points, earning them a place in the play-offs. But because they automatically reached Euro 2024 through regular qualification, their spot was handed to the next team in the League B standings – and this is where it gets needlessly complicated, if it hadn’t already.

Instead of giving Serbia’s place to the team who finished second behind them in Group B4, Norway, Uefa instead collated the efforts of all the teams across each league and chose the four non-qualified teams with the highest points tallies to go into the play-offs. In League B, this also included Norway. But…

League B’s symmetry was disrupted by Uefa’s disqualification of Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine. As a result, Group B2 lost Russia and was reduced to only three nations. So, in its wisdom, Uefa decided it was only fair to dismiss all League B results involving the bottom ranked side of each group, so that each team’s points tally could be compared equally (as the Russia-less Group B2 teams had only played four games, not six).

So, Norway’s two wins over Group B4 losers Sweden were both eradicated from the final standings. Norway won three games in the Nations League but will not be in the play-offs. There will be no Erling Haaland or Martin Odegaard at Euro 2024.

Instead, Iceland – who did not win a single Nations League match, but drew four to get four points – edged out Norway on goal difference, once Uefa had taken away Norway’s wins over Sweden.

Quite why Serbia’s spot couldn’t simply be given to their group runners up, Norway, is unclear. Why Norway’s results against Sweden were expunged, rather than using a points-per-game metric to compare their performance with the Russia-less Group B2 teams, is also unclear.

To make matters even more complex, so many League A teams qualified automatically for Euro 2024 that there were not enough non-qualifiers to fill their four play-off spots. But instead of League A’s fourth place being handed to, say, Norway, it has been given to League D champions Estonia.

Estonia, who won all four of their Nations League games because they were in a three-team group containing Malta and San Marino. And this is where we are.

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