June 19, 2016

PARIS (AP) Third place and you're out. That's the way it used to be.

For the past 20 years, teams that finished in the top two places of a four-team group at the 32-nation World Cup or 16-nation European Championship advanced to the knockout rounds.

A simple procedure that everyone could understand. But one dropped for Euro 2016, which has been expanded to 24 teams. Getting to the round of 16 means the clear formula of the past two decades has been ditched.

Third place and now you've got a chance because the best four of those teams at Euro 2016 will go through this time.

Following the conclusion of Group A on Sunday, the first team to finish in third place is Albania. The team will have to hang around until Wednesday, when the group stage is complete, before it finds out if it gets through or goes home.

The teams from Groups E and F, playing on Wednesday, may have an advantage by knowing exactly which kind of result they will need to play a particular opponent in the next round. There are scenarios that teams would rather place third and qualify than second because it may mean playing an easier opponent.

Not since 1994 in the United States has either the World Cup or the European Championship worked like this.

Here are some things to know about the 24-team system:

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TIEBREAKER RULES

The first three steps in a five-stage tiebreaker process are clear.

Points total is the first resort. After two group games, it appears that any third-place team with four points will almost certainly advance, and those with three have a strong chance, too.

Next, it goes down goal difference. A plus number should be decisive.

Then it comes down to goals scored. In such a low-scoring tournament - games are averaging fewer than two goals through Saturday - any team with four goals could well have an advantage.

If teams still can't be separated, it gets trickier. Fair play record is the fourth tiebreaker - basically, judging teams by how many yellow and red cards their players got in the three group games.

If that fails to separate at least two teams, then the ultimate decider is their place in the UEFA national team rankings.

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WHO WILL THEY PLAY NEXT?

UEFA will not know the makeup of the round of 16 until late Wednesday, but the match schedule is already planned.

A matrix of potential outcomes - which looks like a high school math problem - long ago decided which teams emerging from which groups would play which group winner next.

So if the four best third-place teams come from groups B, C, E and F, they will respectively play the winners of groups C, B, A and D.

All clear?

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HISTORY LESSON

History shows that Euro 2016 teams will need a win and a draw from their three group games to be almost certain to advance.

That is what happened for the third-place teams at the previous 24-team tournament.

In 1994, no tiebreaker was needed because the four - Argentina, Belgium, United States and Italy - had a point-advantage over the other two third-place teams.

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WHY BOTHER?

It's basically a result of UEFA's presidential election in 2007 when Michel Platini beat long-time incumbent Lennart Johansson. To reward national federations who voted for him, and shore up future votes, Platini pledged to invite more of UEFA's now 55-strong membership to Europe's biggest national team competition.

A further upside is that more teams mean more matches - 51 instead of 31 in the 16-team format - and more broadcasting revenue. It also means more fervor in countries whose teams have not played at a major tournament for a long time - or ever, in Iceland's case.

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