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Spain has to wait days to learn its next opponent, then rush to research them


DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — Spain doesn't know which team it plays next at Euro 2024.

Croatia thinks it is out of contention but doesn't know for sure.

The tournament format means days of waiting for some teams, rushed work for their analysts, and a headache for fans trying to grasp where their team will play next.

The issue is because the European Championship has six groups, but only four of the third-place teams with the best records qualify for the round of 16. That means if you're due to face a third-place team — like Spain is after winning Group B — you won't know who you have next until all of the groups have played.

“We might have to stay awake all night in order to study our rival when we find out who it is," Spain coach Luis de la Fuente said in translated comments after his team beat Albania 1-0 on Monday.

"We need to wait until Wednesday probably, a couple of days, until we know who we’re playing with. In any case, we’ll be mentally prepared to go all out and try to get to the next stage.”

De la Fuente said his staff had prepared research on potential opponents for the game in Cologne on Sunday, but there were many of them.

Depending on how the remaining eight group-stage games unfold, Spain's potential opponents range from an underperforming heavyweight like Belgium to Austria, Ukraine or newcomer Georgia. It could even potentially run into the Netherlands or France — hardly the reward a group winner might expect.

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic indicated he thinks his team is out of the tournament. Still, it may not be official for two more days. Conceding a goal deep into added time in its 1-1 draw with Italy dropped Croatia from second to third in the group.

With just two points from three games and a poor goal difference, Croatia needs an improbable series of other results to go its way just to stay in the competition, starting with England beating Slovenia by at least three goals on Tuesday.

Also waiting is Hungary, which placed third in Group A thanks to its 1-0 win over Scotland on Sunday and is in line to qualify but doesn't yet know for sure.

Only one round-of-16 game is confirmed for sure. Italy will face Switzerland in Berlin on Saturday.


AP sports writer Ciaran Fahey in Leipzig contributed.


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