Belfast Telegraph

Explained: What do Northern Ireland need to qualify for European U21 Championship finals?

Northern Ireland forward Shayne Lavery.
Northern Ireland forward Shayne Lavery.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Northern Ireland Under 21s are still in with a chance of qualifying for next year's Europen U21 Championship finals.

Ian Baraclough's boys are three matches away from making it to Italy in June after beating Iceland in thrilling fashion on Thursday evening.

But what exactly do they need to happen?

Updates from Tuesday's action:

Who qualifies for the finals?

All nine group winners make it directly into the finals with the four best-placed runners-up entering play-offs. In Northern Ireland's Group 2, Spain have all-but secured top spot, leaving Northern Ireland vying with Slovakia for second place.

So what do Northern Ireland need to finish second?

A win over rivals for second spot Slovakia at Windsor Park on Tuesday (kick-off 7.30pm) will be needed to secure second place, unless Slovakia slip up against Estonia tomorrow (Friday).

And what are the chances of finishing as one of the four best runners-up?

The play-off spots are determined by the runners-up with the highest points total - but NOT including games against the group's bottom team. So let's take a look:

Group 1: Greece have finished second with 19 adjusted points (not counting wins over San Marino). They will definitely finish ahead of NI. Play-off: Confirmed.

Group 2: This is Northern Ireland's group. NI are on 11 adjusted points (not counting wins over Estonia).

Group 3: Poland are currently second but it's complicated because we don't know who's going to finish bottom. It's between Lithuania and Faroe Islands. NI want it to be Lithuania as Poland would then lose six points from their current 19 total. If it's the Faroes, then Poland only lose two. Even if we assume they lose six, Poland just need a win at home to Georgia to cement a higher points finish than Northern Ireland. Even a draw would likely be enough to pip NI. But, a win for Georgia could be MASSIVE for Northern Ireland. Matches kick-off at 5pm on Tuesday.

Group 4: Ukraine are second on 17 points behind leaders England but the Netherlands will leapfrog them if the Dutch win when the two go head to head in the final game. Now this is also complicated as either Latvia or Andorra will finish bottom. If it's Netherlands in second, they will lose six points regardless of who finishes bottom. Ukraine will lose four if it's Latvia or six if it's Andorra. So the best NI outcome is for the Netherlands to finish second by beating Ukraine. In fact, a win for Northern Ireland on Tuesday WILL beat this runner-up unless Ukraine win their final game (or they draw and Latvia finish bottom). Matches kick-off at 5.30pm.

Group 5: Norway and Republic of Ireland are both on 14 points behind leaders Germany. RoI are on eight adjusted points and Norway on 11, but Norway still have to face bottom side Azerbaijan. NI will finish above Group 5's runners-up if they get a result against Slovakia. Matches kick-off at 5.15pm.

Group 6: Sweden are currently second on 14 adjusted points. Due to a healthy goal difference, they will almost definitely finish in a better position than NI. Play-off: Very likely. Matches kick-off at 5.30pm.

Group 7: Austria are in second spot on 13 adjusted points but Russia are third on the same number of points. Only a draw will suffice for Northern Ireland when those two go head to head in the final game. Then it comes down to goal difference with NI, should NI win. And even then, it would take a six-goal success from NI to overtake Russia on GD. Play-off: Very likely. Matches kick-off at 5pm.

Group 8: Portugal are currently second on 13 adjusted points. Romania are top on 15 adjusted points, Bosnia & Herzegovinia third on 12 adjusted points. With Portugal to play B&H in their final game, what NI NEED is for is Portugal to finish second on 14 adjusted points, and that can only happen with a Portugal v B&H draw. If that happens and NI win both their game, NI would need a swing of FIVE goals to get ahead of Portugal in the runners-up stakes due to goal difference. Matches kick-off at 7pm.

Group 9: Slovenia are currently second on 15 points or 11 adjusted points. Northern Ireland must better Slovenia's result today to finish ahead of them. Slovenia kick-off against group leaders France at 5.45pm.

So run through that quickly.

It's highly likely that Group 1, Group 6 and Group 7 will bag play-off spots. That leaves a bun-fight for the final place. Northern Ireland MUST win and hope for plenty of other results to go their way. The most likely group to ruin it is Group 8. NI are also cheering on Georgia in their final Group 3 game. In Group 4, it's come on Netherlands for NI.

Let's be honest, Northern Ireland making the play-offs looks incredibly unlikely but you just never know.

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