Explaining how European World Cup playoffs work

How do the European World Cup playoffs work? We're glad you asked.

How do the European World Cup playoffs work?

We're glad you asked.

Eight teams have been paired off and will meet in a two-game, home-and-away playoff, with the winner of each series earning a spot at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

The playoff match-ups are as follows: Ukraine-Greece, Bosnia-Portugal, Slovenia-Russia and Ireland-France. The first leg took place on Nov. 14 with the second leg scheduled for Nov. 18.

The simplest way a team can win the series is by winning both games. A victory and a tie would also be good enough for a team to win the playoff.

When both teams win one game each, that's when it gets a bit tricky. In such a case, the first tiebreaker is total goals scored over the two-match series.

So, for instance, Portugal beat Bosnia 1-0 in the first leg at home, but if it loses the second leg 2-0 in Bosnia, the Bosnians would win the series because they outscored the Portuguese 2-1 on aggregate.

If both teams each win one match and are still tied on total goals scored at the completion of the two legs, the next tiebreaker is away goals.

So, Russia won 2-1 at home in the first leg, but if loses 1-0 on the road in the second leg, the aggregate score would be 2-2, but Slovenia would advance, because it scored one road goal (compared with none for Russia).

And of course, if the teams are still tied after that, then the second leg goes to 30 minutes of overtime, and if no goals are scored in the extra period, the series will be decided by a penalty shootout.

Got all that? Good.