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How important is it for Portugal to finish first in their Euro 2020 qualifying group?

How important is it for Portugal to finish first in their Euro 2020 qualifying group?

Portugal run the risk of only being a pot 4 team at Euro 2020 if they only manage to finish 2nd in their qualifying group.

Portugal have got their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign back on track after back-to-back victories moved them up to 2nd place in a tricky group containing both Serbia and Ukraine.

With a 2-4 victory over Serbia in Belgrade followed up by a 1-5 win against Lithuania in Vilnius, Portugal are in a good position to advance to the finals next summer, though still remain 5 points behind Ukraine in the standings, albeit with two games in hands.

With the top two from each group advancing, many might suggest that it doesn’t particularly matter that Portugal remain out of touching distance of Andriy Shevchenko’s side at the top of the pile. But that doesn’t tell the full story.

That is because the teams at the final tournament will be seeded based on their performance in the qualifying campaign. It means that, despite Portugal winning the Euros in 2016 and the Nations League over the summer, they would have no chance of being in pot 1 should they only finish 2nd in their group.

In total, there are 10 qualifying groups, so there will be 10 group winners and 10 runners-up, joined by the four winners of the Nations League path at the finals in 2020.

Since there are only 6 groups at the European Championship finals, four 1st-placed finishers will miss out on pot 1, let alone sides that finish 2nd, illustrating just how important it is for Portugal to not only top their Euro 2020 qualifying group, but to pick up as many points possible.

Here is the breakdown of how the pots at the Euros are constructed:

Euro 2020 Breakdown.png

As you can see from the table above, it is of the upmost importance that Portugal crack top spot in their group, as finishing 2nd is very likely to mean that Portugal only manage to get into pot 3, with only two of the ten qualifying runners-up getting awarded with a pot 2 spot.

At the moment, the second place teams from groups G, H and I all look more likely to accumulate more points than the runners-up in Portugal’s group, so pot 2 may not even be feasible if Portugal don’t top the group.

Instead, they could find themselves in pot 3, alongside the likes of Finland, Slovakia and Czech Republic, while Belgium, Italy, Germany and England are likely to make up most of pot 1.

In fact, there is always that possibility that Portugal will miss out on pot 3 altogether as well, with the two worst performing 2nd-place teams in the qualification group stage being given a place in pot 4. Yikes.

Here’s simply another way to illustrate the breakdown of the pots:

Euro 2020 Breakdown written.png

Hopefully now it becomes clear exactly why Portugal finishing top of their Euro 2020 group is so crucial, as if they remain in 2nd place, they run the risk of being in pot 3 - or even worse, pot 4.

This could be particularly plausible considering the fact that Portugal only managed to secure home draws against Serbia and Ukraine. If they follow that up with another draw, or even a defeat, against Ukraine in the return fixture to be played next month, they are likely to really struggle to secure a berth in pot 2 at the finals.

Nothing short of victory over Ukraine next month, therefore, should be deemed acceptable, with the stakes higher than they have been in previous years.

Before this year, UEFA used the UEFA national team coefficient, the continental equivalent to the FIFA World rankings, to decipher who would be in each pot. Since Portugal are invariably one of the top 6 nations, more often then not in the top 4 too, before this year, Portugal have frequently been in pot 1 since the turn of the century.

Now their method of deciphering who goes into which pot has changed, however, the necessity to qualify with comfort has never been more important.

Some astute observers may say that Portugal are at an unfair advantage, being in a group of only 5 teams while most other sides are in a group with 6 teams. To make up for the deficit, only results against the top 5 sides in each group are counted towards the rankings, so any victories secured over minnows such as Gibraltar, San Marino and Liechtenstein will not count towards the points and goal difference in the ranking system.

It is early days, of course, and you can be sure that there will still be plenty of movements in many of the groups, but to give a rough idea of how it is all stacking up at this current stage, this is how the pots would look if the draw were today:

Euro 2020 pots (12 September).png

Now of course, the rankings aren’t completely fair, what with Portugal among a handful of sides that have a game in hand, but it is a good indication of the uphill battle Portugal face to be one of the two best 2nd-place teams in qualification.

Indeed, even if Portugal did win their game in hand, they would still only currently be the 3rd best of the second place teams overall, behind Russia and Northern Ireland. As such, Portugal really do have some work to do to work their way up the pots.

They are actualy, as it stands, quite close to slipping into pot 4, only above Slovenia and Sweden on goal difference, so there really is no room for error.

Luckily for Portugal, three of their remaining four games should really be winnable. With Lithuania at home and Luxembourg both home and away three of the matches Portugal can look forward to, they should be garnering at least 9 more points over the course of the qualification campaign.

The other match could be problematic, though - Ukraine in Kiev. Should Portugal win that in addition to the other 3 fixtures, they will be guaranteed to top the group. If they fail, though, they are unlikely to do so, and will have to settle for 2nd.

If Portugal were to draw, that would leave them in 2nd place in the group on 18 points, with 5 wins and three draws. The good news is, if Euro 2016 used the current system to determine the pots at the tournament proper, that would have been a sufficient total to sneak Portugal into pot 2.

However, every qualification campaign is different, and who knows if it would be sufficient this time around.

Raphael Guerreiro. Photo author: Анна Нэсси.  License link.

Raphael Guerreiro. Photo author: Анна Нэсси. License link.

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