Five subs, three goalies, three rejects: Euro 2020 substitution and squad rules explained

Euro 2020 substitutions
(Image credit: PA)

For many Euro 2020 viewers, football fans or not, the start of the competition has brought some confusion around seemingly never-ending substitutions. 

This is because the rules were changed for this summer’s showcase tournament, allowing each team to make five changes during a game.

UEFA announced in March that a temporary amendment would be made to the rules for the European Championship, as well as the Nations League finals and relegation play-outs.

The reasoning was simple enough. The coronavirus pandemic resulted in a packed fixture schedule in a compressed 2020/21 season, increasing the physical demands being asked of players.

In a statement, UEFA said: “The reasons for the five substitutions rule remain valid against the background of national and international football calendars affected by the Covid-19 pandemic”.

The rule is already in place for World Cup qualifiers between March 2021 and March 2022 and will be extended beyond the Euros to the Nations League finals in October 2021 and the relegation play-outs in March 2022.

Squad limits were also expanded for the tournament from 23 to 26 players, but each manager must select a match day squad of 23 for each game, which must include three goalkeepers.

That means three members of the squad miss out for each match. 

For example, Jadon Sancho, Ben Chilwell and Harry Maguire were left out of the England squad for the Three Lions' opening game against Croatia, despite the latter being the only player with fitness issues.

That means there is a 12-man bench for each team in every game, including 10 outfield players.

One catch, to try and stop the game from being too stop-start, is that all five replacements must be made in a maximum of three stoppages in play. 

Half time doesn’t count as one of the three.

If a game goes to extra time, a sixth substitute will be permitted and an additional stoppage in play will be allowed.

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Alasdair Mackenzie is a freelance journalist based in Rome, and a FourFourTwo contributor since 2015. When not pulling on the FFT shirt, he can be found at Reuters, The Times and the i. An Italophile since growing up on a diet of Football Italia on Channel 4, he now counts himself among thousands of fans sharing a passion for Ross County and Lazio.