Football: Andorra and Bosnia join the long march to Euro 2000

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The Independent Online
The picturesque Belgian city of Ghent has come under Spanish, Austrian, French and Dutch control since medieval times. Tomorrow it hosts the draw to begin the process of determining which country will rule European football come the millennium. Phil Shaw sets the scene.

Memories of Euro 96 are still glowing, anticipation for France 98 growing. Yet tomorrow, barely six weeks after the draw for the World Cup finals took place in Marseilles, England and Scotland will be among the leading seeds in the draw for the campaign to qualify for the European Championship finals in 2000.

While the joint hosts, Belgium and the Netherlands, have automatically been awarded two of the 16 finals places, Uefa's other member 49 nations must await their fate at the International Congress Centre among the canals and bridges of historic Ghent.

They range from the holders, Germany, to Bosnia-Herzegovina (who beat Italy in a friendly 14 months ago) and tiny, tax-free Andorra (population 66,000; registered players 280), both entering for the first time. The draw will be made by Johan Cruyff and the former Belgian international Paul van Himst.

To ensure a balanced draw for the qualifying groups, which begin in earnest next September, the countries have been graded into five bands. Their names will be drawn, according to the endearing terminology of the European game's ruling body, Uefa, out of "pots".

The first pot will contain the nine nations rated the strongest, one of whom will go into each group. The second will hold the next band of teams - theoretically weaker, but including the likes of France, Croatia and Bulgaria - and so on down to the 13 "makeweight" countries in the fifth pot.

The seedings were decided on the basis of results during qualifying for the finals in England 18 months ago and for the forthcoming World Cup finals.

England, whose coach, Glenn Hoddle, will attend the draw, learned this week that they will be in one of the five groups of five nations. They will head Group Five, with Italy in Group One, Germany Group Three and Spain Group Seven.

The other top-ranking teams - Scotland (seeded for the first time), Norway, Romania, Russia and Yugoslavia - will discover tomorrow whether they will head the remaining group of five or one of the four six-team sections.

Craig Brown, the Scotland manager, claims he would be happy to be in one of the larger groups (to include two of the supposed cannon fodder). Ever the pragmatist, he says it would save him looking for opponents for friendlies.

The nine group winners will advance to the finals, which will be be played from 10 June to 2 July 2000. The runners-up with the best record will also go forward automatically, as the Scots did in the World Cup. The other eight second-placed sides will take part in play-offs on a home- and-away basis in November next year to decide the last four finalists.

Bobby Gould's Wales and managerless Northern Ireland face an uphill task to qualify after being placed in the fourth seeding band. The Republic of Ireland, who scored a memorable victory over England in the 1988 finals, find their falling stock reflected by a place in the third band.


SEEDING BAND No 1: Germany (holders), England, Italy, Norway, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Yugoslavia.

SEEDING BAND No 2: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Greece, Portugal, Turkey.

SEEDING BAND No 3: Finland, Georgia, Israel, Lithuania, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine.

SEEDING BAND No 4: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cyprus, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Macedonia, Northern Ireland, Poland, Wales.

SEEDING BAND No 5: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Faroe Isles, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, San Marino, Slovenia.