Closing in on the last sixteen

With four points on the board ahead of their final group against Northern Ireland at the Parc des Princes in Paris, Joachim Löw’s Germany are assured a top three finish, and have one foot in the last sixteen. While the team are confident of seeing out the group phase with a convincing win to finish top, a number of permutations are possible – made more interesting by the sixteen from twenty-four qualifying process.

Some of you may have been reading my at times crazy tournament path plotting on Bayern central, and you can see how things have progressed – or not – over the past couple of weeks. Having made my initial set of predictions easily enough, I had to update them after the end of the first set of matches, and then again after match day two.

As you can see, it is crazy – but crazy fun – stuff. I’ll try and keep things short(ish) here.

If (when?) Germany finish top

Given the complicated matrix of possible outcomes, let’s start with the simplest set – those based on Germany finishing top of Group C. According to the fixture plan, the group winners will play the third placed team from one of Groups A, B or F, so long as these teams are among the top four of the six teams finishing in third place. The matrix is pretty complex in itself, and you can see it here.

Truth be told, you are probably better off looking at this after the event, if just to see how things were worked out, rather than make an calculations that will make your head explode and render the actual football irrelevant. This is what UEFA’s boffins are for – even I won’t go so far for fear of ending up in a clinic.

We already know two of Germany’s three likely opponents following the completion of groups A and B. After their historic 1-0 win over Romania in their final match, Albania occupy the position in Group A, having finished on three points, behind hosts France and Switzerland. In group B, Slovakia are on four points, behind surprise group winners Wales and pre-tournament group favourites England.

In Group F, the situation is far more complicated. In the four matches played so far there has only been one winning result – Hungary’s surprise 2-0 over Austria. This leaves the Hungarians in front on four points, with group favourites Portugal and outsiders Iceland both on two, and pre-tournament dark horses Austria propping things up with a single point. With nothing assured, all four teams can qualify for the last sixteen, and any one of them can finish third.

Giving that I am tipping Portugal to finally get a win on the board and Iceland to grab a point against the Austrians, Portugal will finish top on five points, with Hungary remaining on four. In third place, the Icelanders will sneak into the mix on three.

Now it is time to look at that matrix again. Scary, isn’t it? If you look closely at the “Winner Group C v” column, you will notice that both “3A” (third place in Group A) and “3F” (third place in Group F) occupy three of the fifteen slots, while “3B” (third place in Group B) occupies nine. This means that even before a ball was kicked, there was a 60% chance that the Group C winners would be drawn against the the third placed team in Group B – provided that the latter were in the top four of the six third-ranked teams.

With their group complete and four points on the board, Slovakia are pretty safe; in the three previous implementations of the 16/24 system – the FIFA World Cup in 1986, 1990 and 1994 – only one team with four points has ever been eliminated. Slovakia are already ahead of Albania in the pecking order, and they will need some crazy results to go against them to put them out.

So… It looks a good bet that should Germany finish first, they will play the Slovaks in Lille. Let us hope that there is no sudden thunderstorm and heavy rain this time around.

Not something we want to see again. Germany slipping and sliding en route to a 3-1 defeat against Slovakia in Augsburg

What if Germany finish second?

Going into the final pair of matches level on four points with Poland, Germany can finish second even if they win their final match. They hold a slender +1 goal advantage over the Poles, and should the Białe Orły (“white eagles”) put a few goals past the already eliminated Ukraine, things could get a little tight at the top. If Germany and Poland both win and Germany get a better result, the Mannschaft will finish top of the group.

If Germany win 1-0 and the Poles beat Ukraine 2-0 to level things off completely – with both teams level on points, goal difference, goals scored and head to head record – Germany will be deemed group winners on UEFA coefficient countback (yes, this nonsense can be useful). If Poland beat Ukraine by any three goal margin and Germany can only finish one in front of Northern Ireland, the Poles will top the group on goal difference.

While we all want a final victory, Germany don’t even need to win to finish as group table toppers. So long as Jogi’s Jungs get a better result than the Poles, they will finish top. Unless both teams lose, of course; in that case, Northern Ireland will top the group.

OK, let us assume that these nasty turns come to pass and Germany finish second. The next bit, somewhat mercifully, is a lot simpler. The Group C runners-up will play the Group A runners-up in the first of the second round fixtures in Saint-Étienne – and as confirmed Group A runners-up, Switzerland are all set and in place.

What if, heaven forbid, Germany lose to Northern Ireland?

If Germany channel their inner Euro 1984 qualifiers and get turned over in their last game, they will be overhauled by the Ulstermen who will move onto six points. If Poland then beat Ukraine or even draw, it will see the Mannschaft finish third on four points. However, even if they lose, Jogi Löw’s men can still finish second if the Poles also trip up.

Another thing we do not want to see again. Uli Stielike swaps shirts with Northern’s Ireland’s Norman Whiteside after the Mannschaft’s 1-0 defeat in Belfast in November 1982

Either way, a defeat against Norn Iron will mean that Germany cannot finish top of the group. So, for that reason, it just isn’t going to happen. We hope.

So, what are the possible permutations if the Germans finish in third spot?

Not at all pleasant, to tell the truth. According to the 16/24 matrix, the third team in Group C (“3C”) has a one in fifteen chance of meeting the winners of Group A, and a sixty percent chance of crashing into the winners of Group A. With these two groups already decided, this means either surprise package Wales (the 1/15 chance) or hosts France. Oui, not at all pleasant.

While four points should be enough to guarantee a passage into the last sixteen, a defeat could also see the possibility of a German elimination – thought this is incredibly remote.

Closing in on the last sixteen
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