UEFA unveil stretched format for Euro 2016 qualifiers
UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino pictured during a press conference after the last UEFA Executive Committee meeting of the year in the northern Spanish Basque city of Bilbao on December 12, 2013
The qualifying competition will involve 53 UEFA members, including Gibraltar, the tiny British Overseas Territory at the foot of the Iberian peninsula.
The teams will be split into nine groups of five or six, with the top two in each section qualifying automatically for the finals, along with hosts France.
They will be joined by the best third-placed team, while the eight remaining third-placed teams will contest play-offs to determine the last four qualifiers.
The 2016 finals will see the number of competing teams increase from 16 to 24. That controversial move should ensure greater television revenues for UEFA, and European football's governing body are determined to extract maximum exposure from the qualifying tournament too.
To that end, UEFA have decided that international weeks will extend from Thursday to Tuesday, with games being played every day in what has been dubbed the 'Week of Football' concept.
On double-header match-weeks, teams will play on Thursday/Sunday, Friday/Monday or Saturday/Tuesday.
"The fact we spread the European Qualifiers over several days as opposed to all teams playing on the same day will ensure a better visibility for the competition," UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino said.
"Each day of the 'Week of Football' will have eight to ten matches as opposed to 20–30 matches on the same day."
The qualifying draw, for which sides will be seeded according to the UEFA national team coefficient rankings, will take place in Nice on February 23, 2014.
The draw for the final tournament will be held in Paris on December 12, 2015, with the finals running from June 10 to July 10, 2016.