The qualifying competition for UEFA Euro 2016 is a football competition scheduled to be played from September 2014 to November 2015 to determine the 23 teams to join France, who qualify automatically as hosts of UEFA Euro 2016. Fifty-three member associations will participate in the qualifying process for the tournament places, with Gibraltar taking part for the first time.
The draw took place at the Palais des Congrès Acropolis, Nice, on 23 February 2014. Sides were seeded according to the UEFA national team coefficient rankings, which were announced along with the draw procedure and final tournament match schedule after the 23-24 January Executive Committee meeting in Nyon.
All UEFA member associations are eligible to compete in the qualifying competition, with the hosts (France) qualifying directly to the finals tournament. The other 53 teams are drawn into eight groups of six teams (Groups A–H) and one group of five teams (Group I). The group winners, runners-up, and the best third-placed team (with the results against the sixth-placed team discarded) directly qualify to the finals. The eight remaining third-placed teams contest two-legged play-offs to determine the last four qualifiers for the finals.
The teams were seeded into six pots (Pots 1–5 with 9 teams and Pot 6 with 8 teams) for the qualifying group stage draw according to the UEFA national team coefficient rankings, with the title holders (Spain) automatically seeded into Pot 1. Each nation's coefficient is generated by calculating:
UEFA stated that nations with the largest markets in terms of contribution to the European Qualifiers revenue would be drawn into one of the groups containing six teams. They include England, Spain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. UEFA has also stated in their regulations that "the teams drawn into the group of five teams will have France added to their group for the purpose of playing centralised friendlies".
If two or more teams are equal on points on completion of the group matches, the following tie-breaking criteria are applied:
Higher number of points obtained in the matches played between the teams in question;
Superior goal difference resulting from the matches played between the teams in question;
Higher number of goals scored in the matches played between the teams in question;
Higher number of goals scored away from home in the matches played between the teams in question;
If, after having applied criteria 1 to 4, teams still have an equal ranking, criteria 1 to 4 are reapplied exclusively to the matches between the teams in question to determine their final rankings. If this procedure does not lead to a decision, criteria 6 to 10 apply;
Superior goal difference in all group matches;
Higher number of goals scored in all group matches;
Higher number of away goals scored in all group matches;
Fair play conduct in all group matches (1 point for a single yellow card, 3 points for a red card as a consequence of two yellow cards, 3 points for a direct red card, 4 points for a yellow card followed by a direct red card);
The four play-off ties are determined by draw, including the order of the two legs of each tie. The teams are seeded for the play-off draw according to the UEFA national team coefficient rankings updated after the completion of the group stage. Each nation's coefficient is generated by calculating:
For each tie, the team that scores more goals on aggregate over the two legs qualifies for the final tournament. If the aggregate score is level, the away goals rule is applied, i.e., the team that scores more goals away from home over the two legs advances. If away goals are also equal, then thirty minutes of extra time is played, divided into two fifteen-minutes halves. The away goals rule is again applied after extra time, i.e., if there are goals scored during extra time and the aggregate score is still level, the visiting team advances by virtue of more away goals scored. If no goals are scored during extra time, the tie is decided by penalty shoot-out.
This is the first qualifying tournament after UEFA announced centralised rights deals for both UEFA Euro and FIFA World Cup qualifying. UEFA has proposed the "Week of Football" concept for the scheduling of qualifying matches:
Matches take place from Thursday to Tuesday.
Kick-off times are largely set at 18:00 and 20:45 CET on Saturdays and Sundays, and 20:45 CET on Thursdays, Fridays, Mondays and Tuesdays.
On double-header matchweeks, teams play on Thursday and Sunday, or Friday and Monday, or Saturday and Tuesday.
Matches in the same group are played on the same day.
There are ten matchdays for the group stage, and two matchdays for the play-offs:
7–9 September 2014
9–11 October 2014
12–14 October 2014
14–16 November 2014
27–29 March 2015
12–14 June 2015
3–5 September 2015
6–8 September 2015
8–10 October 2015
11–13 October 2015
Play-off 1st leg
12–14 November 2015
Play-off 2nd leg
15–17 November 2015
Unlike previous qualifying campaigns where group fixtures were determined by negotiation between the national federations, UEFA themselves decide each group's fixture list, to be released the same day as the draw.
Groups A–H each contains one team from each of Pots 1–6, while Group I contains one team from each of Pots 1–5.
For television rights reasons, England, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands shall be drawn into groups of 6 teams.
For political reasons, Azerbaijan and Armenia (due to disputed status of Nagorno-Karabakh), as well as Spain and Gibraltar (due to disputed status of Gibraltar) shall not be drawn in the same group. Unlike the previous UEFA qualifying tournament, Russia and Georgia have agreed to play each other if they are drawn together.
France (Coeff: 30,992; Rank: 11) are partnered with the five-team Group I, which enable the 2016 tournament hosts to play friendlies against these countries on their 'spare' dates. These friendlies do not count in the qualifying group standings.
The highest ranked third-placed team from the groups directly qualify for the tournament, while the remainder enter the play-offs. As some groups contain six teams and some five, matches against the sixth-placed team in each group are not included in this ranking. As a result, a total of eight matches played by each team count toward the purpose of the third-placed ranking table.