Eight teams were divided into two groups of four. The two group winners qualified for the actual qualification round. The draw took place on 3 December 2010. The games were played from 3 to 8 March 2011. The hosts of the two one-venue preliminary round groups are indicated below in italics.
The two winners of the preliminary round will join the 36 top ranked nations, with the exception of already qualified Sweden, and play in four groups of five teams and three of six teams. The group winners and the best ranked runner-up qualified for the final tournament. The other six runner-ups will play three two-legged playoffs with those winners also advancing to the final tournament. This stage will run from September 2011 to September 2012.
Due to the risk of suspension by FIFA of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Football Federation (NFSBiH), Bosnia and Herzegovina have automatically been drawn in sixth position in Group 1 in order to avoid the possibility of a five-team group being reduced to four. The draw was made on March 14, 2011.
The highest ranked second placed team from the groups qualify automatically for the tournament, while the remainder will enter the play-offs. As some groups contain six teams and some five, matches against the sixth-placed team in each group will not be included in this ranking. As a result, a total of eight matches played by each team will count toward the purpose of the second-placed ranking table. The Netherlands finished as best runners-up.
The six teams advancing as runners-up were drawn against each other to qualify three team through a two legged play-off. The three nations with the highest UEFA coefficients were seeded and played their second leg at home. The draw took place on Friday, 21 September 2012, at 12:45 local time at the UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.