On Sunday the first 'Week of Football' of the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying round begins – UEFA.com lifts the lid on a new concept for the international game.
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With less than a week to go until the European Qualifiers get under way, UEFA.com explains a brand-new concept and how it is the fans who will benefit.
How does qualifying work?
The qualifying round for UEFA EURO 2016 comprises eight groups of six teams and one section of five, with matches played on a home-and-away basis.
For the first time, qualifying takes place under the new 'Week of Football' concept, in which games are spread out from Thursday to Tuesday, shining the spotlight on more teams on the road to the finals in France. Moreover, thanks to the Week of Football idea, at least 33% of games will be played on weekends, giving fans a better chance to follow the action on television, in the stadiums and on UEFA.com. In UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying, only 26 matches out of 245 were held on Saturdays or Sundays.
Kick-off times will be set mainly at 18.00CET and 20.45CET on Saturdays and Sundays and at 20.45CET for Thursdays, Fridays, Mondays and Tuesdays. In double-header matchweeks, teams will play on Thursday/Sunday, Friday/Monday or Saturday/Tuesday. Each day of the Week of Football will have eight to ten matches.
The nine group winners, the nine runners-up and the best third-placed side will qualify directly for the final tournament. The eight remaining third-placed teams will contest play-offs to determine the last four qualifiers for the finals.
Matchday 1 (7–9 September)
Fifty of the 53 contenders will have their first qualifying fixtures over three days in early September, with Denmark, Georgia and Hungary having the honour of kicking off the inaugural Week of Football on 7 September when they host Armenia, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland respectively from 18.00CET.
Among the other sides in action on the opening day are Gibraltar, who – buoyed by their first victory as a UEFA nation, a 1-0 defeat of Malta – welcome Poland to their temporary home in Faro, Portugal, for their maiden competitive assignment. At the same time, 20.45CET, Greece tackle Romania in a repeat of the teams' 2014 FIFA World Cup play-off.
Other appetising fixtures in the first round of matches include Roy Hodgson taking England to Switzerland, where he is fondly remembered for his time coaching the national side in the 1990s, and the Czech Republic versus the Netherlands.