Scotland and Northern Ireland just 90 minutes away from Euro 2020

Euro 2020 play-offs: Scotland are just one win against Serbia away from ending 23 years of agony while 1,060 lucky fans will be at Northern Ireland against Slovakia… and everyone can watch the crunch games for free

  • The final four nations at Euro 2020 will be decided in Thursday’s play-off finals
  • Scotland make the trip to Belgrade to play Serbia as they aim to qualify
  • Northern Ireland are at home to Slovakia as they try and clinch their finals place
  • Both matches will be screened on Freeview TV for fans watching on at home
  • 1,060 socially distanced Northern Ireland fans will be allowed at Windsor Park
  • Hungary vs Iceland and Georgia vs North Macedonia are other play-off finals 

We already know the identity of 20 of the 24 nations at next summer’s rearranged Euro 2020. This week, we will discover who the other four will be.

Four play-off finals on Thursday will finally complete the qualification process for the European Championship, which will retain its Euro 2020 title despite being played in 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here’s everything you need to know about this week’s play-off finals.

Scotland’s players celebrate their penalty shoot-out win over Israel in last month’s play-off semi-final at Hampden Park. Now they travel to Serbia for the final on Thursday

Northern Ireland won their semi-final away to Bosnia, also on penalties, and now play at home to Slovakia as they try and seal their place at the finals next year

So we haven’t got all the Euro teams yet then?

No. Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and the suspension of the international football due to be played in March and over the summer, the whole Euro 2020 tournament was pushed back 12 months.

We already know 20 of the 24 teams that will compete in the tournament and the other four are to be decided in play-offs that were originally set for March.

But a hasty reshuffle of the international calendar saw the play-off semi-finals completed last month with all four finals scheduled for this Thursday.

So by Thursday night, we will know the full line-up of 24 for next summer’s tournament which is just as well seeing as the draw has already been made.

Who has already qualified and how?

The qualifying groups for Euro 2020 were played throughout 2019 with the winners and runners-up of each of the 10 groups sealing their spot.

They are as follows (in date order of when they sealed qualification): Belgium, Italy, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Spain, France, Turkey, England, Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden, Croatia, Austria, Holland, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland, Denmark and Wales.

The Covid-19 pandemic caused Euro 2020 to be postponed 12 months – but the name remains

Euro 2020: Who has qualified? 

We already know 20 of the 24 countries at Euro 2020 next year. They are: Belgium, Italy, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Spain, France, Turkey, England, Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden, Croatia, Austria, Holland, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland, Denmark and Wales.

The other four spots will be determined by four play-off finals this Thursday (November 12th)

PATH A – Hungary vs Iceland (Puskas Arena, Budapest) 7.45pm kick-off UK time, Live on Sky Sports Red Button

PATH B – Northern Ireland vs Slovakia (Windsor Park, Belfast) 7.45pm kick-off UK time, Live on Sky Sports Premier League and Challenge

PATH C – Serbia vs Scotland (Rajko Mitic Stadium, Belgrade) 7.45pm kick-off UK time, Live on Sky Sports Football, Sky One and Pick TV 

PATH D – Georgia vs North Macedonia (Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, Tbilisi) 5pm kick-off UK time, Live on Sky Sports Football  

So who made it into the play-offs?

In a change to the usual format, the 16 teams that went into the play-offs were decided by results in the 2018-19 UEFA Nations League.

The 16 teams who failed to make it through the normal qualifying groups went into the play-offs with a spread across the four Nations League levels.

So, for example, League D contains many of the minnows of European football but the four who did best in the Nations League were put on a pathway to Euro 2020. This turned out to be Georgia, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Belarus.

Iceland were the only country from the elite League A not to make it but they were given a second chance in the play-offs. Likewise, Bosnia, Slovakia, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in League B.

But most of the play-off teams came from League C – Scotland, Norway, Serbia, Bulgaria, Israel, Hungary and Romania.

They were then assorted into four pathways with the single-legged semi-finals played last month and the single-legged finals this week.

What happened in the semi-finals then?

There was good news for Scotland and Northern Ireland, who made it through, but the Republic of Ireland’s chances of qualifying were ended.

Scotland were held to a goalless draw over 120 minutes by Israel at Hampden Park but scored all five of their penalties in the shootout to win 5-3.

Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall makes a crucial save from Israel’s Eran Zehavy 

Liam Boyce scores the winning penalty in Bosnia to carry Northern Ireland into the final

Northern Ireland had a similarly tense night against Bosnia in Sarajevo. A 1-1 draw after extra-time was followed by a 4-3 win on penalties.

Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland drew 0-0 with Slovakia in Bratislava and then lost 4-2 on penalties, ending their dreams of a Euro return.

In Path A, Iceland overcame Romania 2-1 while Hungary won 3-1 away to Bulgaria. That means Thursday’s Path A final will see Hungary play Iceland in Budapest.

In Path B, it will be Northern Ireland vs Slovakia at Windsor Park in Belfast.

In Path C, Scotland travel to Belgrade to play Serbia, who won 2-1 in Norway in their semi-final.

And in Path D, Georgia overcame Belarus 1-0, while North Macedonia defeated Kosovo 2-1 to set up a Georgia vs North Macedonia final in Tbilisi.

The Republic of Ireland saw their chances of making the finals ended by Slovakia last month

Norway’s chances of reaching the finals ended with a 2-1 defeat to Serbia in the semi-finals

North Macedonia players and coaches celebrate their semi-final victory over Kosovo 

So the winners of these games will be in the finals?

Yes, there are no more qualifying games to play after these. Indeed, the winners on Thursday will even know which group they’re in at Euro 2020.

The winners of the Scotland-Serbia game will be in Group D alongside England, Croatia and the Czech Republic next year, raising the intriguing possibility of an England vs Scotland clash as at Euro 96.

Whoever wins the Northern Ireland vs Slovakia game will go into Group E alongside Spain, Sweden and Poland.

The winner in the Hungary vs Iceland game enters the Group of Death, Group F, along with France, Germany and Portugal.

And whoever wins between Georgia and North Macedonia enters Group C with Holland, Ukraine and Austria.

England and Scotland could meet in the group stages as happened at Euro 96 

What are Scotland’s chances of making it?

It’s been a long and often agonising wait for Scotland to return to tournament football – 23 years by the time Euro 2020 starts.

Their trip to Serbia, 15 places above Scotland in the FIFA rankings, is far from easy but the prospect of a one-off tie could play into their favour.

Steve Clarke’s side also have some decent momentum behind them as well. While their semi-final with Israel was typically nerve-shredding, Scotland do top their Nations League group at present after home and away wins over the Czechs and another against Slovakia.

That bodes well for a potential Euro 2020 group meeting with the Czechs next year and they could secure promotion to the top Nations League level next week.

Ryan Fraser is congratulated on his goal against the Czech Republic in the Nations League

Scotland will have to contend with Serbia and Fulham forward Aleksandar Mitrovic 

But all thoughts will be on Serbia and how to deal with the likes of Fulham’s prolific and aggressive forward Aleksandar Mitrovic (36 goals in 59 international games), Real Madrid’s Luka Jovic, Ajax’s Dusan Tadic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic of Lazio.

There had been some doubt over whether Serbia’s four Italy-based players could travel after new lockdown measures but head coach Ljubisa Tumbakovic confirmed two of them – Milinkovic-Savic and captain Aleksandar Kolarov – were in the camp already.

So Scotland will be underdogs but that could suit them with the incentive of playing two group games at Hampden next year a huge one.

What about Northern Ireland’s chances of making it?

Northern Ireland’s fans had a blast at Euro 2016 in France and they’ll be desperate to be at the party again.

On the face of it, they have a really good chance against Slovakia. They do have home advantage and 1,060 socially distanced fans will be inside Windsor Park.

Coming through a daunting semi-final in Bosnia will serve as an enormous confidence boost for Ian Baraclough’s side. They’re only four places beneath Slovakia in the FIFA rankings as well (37 to 41).

Northern Ireland have found their Nations League campaign a struggle so far with three losses

1,060 socially distanced Northern Ireland fans will be permitted inside Windsor Park

They’re not in the best of form, though, with no wins and three defeats from their opening four Nations League games leaving them likely to drop into League C next time.

However, they won the game that really mattered last month and qualification for the finals would see the interesting prospect of two games played in Dublin.

Where can I watch these play-off finals?

All four will be screened in the UK on Sky and the broadcaster has made the decision that the Scotland and Northern Ireland matches will be free-to-air.

Serbia vs Scotland kicks off at 7.45pm UK time and will be on Sky Sports Football, Sky One and Pick TV, which is usually channel 35 on Freeview.

Northern Ireland vs Slovakia, also at 7.45pm, is on Sky Sports Premier League and Challenge (channel 47 on Freeview).

If you want to watch Hungary vs Iceland, that’s on Sky Sports Red Button at 7.45pm.

Georgia vs North Macedonia is on at 5pm UK time on Sky Sports Football.

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