The decision to increase the European Championship participants from 16 to an inefficient 24 brings us a convoluted system to pair teams for the first knock-out round.
This excerpt from UEFA’s tournament rules (kind of) explains how 24 is transformed to 16 by pairing 4 third placed teams (with the best record) against group winners.
In practice it makes it difficult to predict who each team will face in the last 16. Take England, if they win Group B – they’ll face the 3rd placed team from either group A, D or C. This could be one of
Finish 2nd and it’s simpler, the runner-up from Group F, i.e.
If they finish 3rd, they might be eliminated. But, as long as they’re in the top 4 of the 6 third placed teams – they’ll be paired with a group winner. If this happens, as the table above shows, in nine out of ten of the possible 3rd place combinations – England would play the winners of group C. This could be:
So who are England’s most likely first knockout opponents? There are 16 possible teams they could play. In the first iteration of my Euro 16 projection model I’ve simply used FIFA rankings to rate teams. This showed Germany as England’s most likely last 16 opponents!
However, FIFA rankings have significant flaws when being used for prediction, so I’ve now updated team ratings using my Adjusted Goals rating system (explained here).
This gives England a 55% chance of winning Group B – and if they do there are 12 potential opponents. They have a 25% of finishing second, where Austria are the most likely opponents.
There’s an 11% chance that England finish 3rd (and aren’t eliminated). In this case – there’s a high likelihood they’d face Germany (strong favourites to win Group C). There’s also a (much smaller probability) scenario where England win Group B and play Germany if they finish 3rd in Group C. So the chances of meeting Germany in the last 16 are still reasonably high (at 7.6%) but they are only one of 9 teams that have a greater than 7% chance of being England’s first knockout opponents.