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The expansion of the UEFA EURO finals to 24 teams meant that for the first time four third-place finishers advanced from the group stage – ultimately allowing Portugal to make history by becoming European champions.

After Portugal drew all three of their Group F matches, Iceland’s last-gasp winner against Austria consigned Fernando Santos’s side to qualifying as one of the four best third-placed teams.

But whereas Slovakia, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland made similar progress only to fall at the next hurdle, Portugal’s subsequent defeats of Croatia, Poland and Wales took the Selecção das Quinas to Sunday’s final against France, where they lifted their first major trophy.

The 1-0 victory at Stade de France was also historic for having a third-place finisher claim the ultimate spoils. For while this EURO was the first European men’s tournament to have used such a system, third-placed sides have proceeded previously from group to knockout phases at the FIFA World Cup among other FIFA men’s, women’s and futsal tournaments, and even at past UEFA Women’s EUROs.

Never before in any of those championships, however, did a team come third in their group and go on to land the trophy, despite several reaching the final. We look at the more than 100 precedents which Portugal defied.

  • In total (102 third-placed teams)

Won tournament: 1
Lost in final: 3
Lost in semi-final: 12
Lost in quarter-final*: 8
Lost in first knockout game: 78

*24-team tournaments only

Tournament by tournament …

Full performances
Portugal: winners
Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia: lost in round of 16

  • UEFA Women’s EURO: 2009–13 (12 teams, three tournaments)

Full performances
2009: England runners-up, Norway semi-finalists
2013: Denmark semi-finalists, Iceland quarter-finalists (first knockout round)

  • FIFA World Cup: 1986–94 (24 teams, three tournaments)

Best performances
1986: Belgium fourth place
1990: Argentina runners-up
1994: Italy runners-up

  • FIFA Women’s World Cup: 1991–93 (12 teams, two tournaments), 2015– (24 teams)

No third-placed team have ever won a knockout tie

  • Women’s Olympic tournament: 2004 (10 teams), 2008–12 (12 teams, two tournaments)

Best performances
2008: Japan fourth place
2012: Canada third place

  • FIFA U-20 World Cup: 1997– (24 teams, ten tournaments)

Best performances
1999: Uruguay fourth place
2001: Paraguay fourth place
2009: Costa Rica fourth place
2013: Ghana third place
2015: Senegal fourth place

  • FIFA U-17 World Cup: 2007– (24 teams, five tournaments)

Best performances
2013: Sweden third place
2015: Belgium third place

  • FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup: 2002–04 (12 teams, two tournaments)

No third-placed team ever won a knockout tie

  • FIFA Futsal World Cup: 2012– (24 teams, one tournament)

No third-placed team have ever won a knockout tie


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