Football: Dangers loom for England in European draw

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The Independent Online
ANOTHER DAY, another draw, or rather, in tomorrow's case, a brace of them.

Parochial eyes will be on the FA Cup fourth-round draw but international interest will be centred on Brussels where Kevin Keegan, fresh from his midweek trip to Japan for the World Cup draw, attends the Euro 2000 version.

There is a one-in-four chance of his England team being paired with Germany for the second time in six days as the holders are one of four seeded nations. Belgium and the Netherlands - the joint hosts - and Spain are the other top seeds.

A Uefa meeting yesterday pondered the question of whether the remaining 12 teams should be further seeded but a final decision will not be confirmed until today. If there is further seeding England, by virtue of their poor qualifying record, would be in the bottom group which would mean they could not be drawn with Slovenia, arguably the weakest qualifiers, but would probably keep them away from Denmark and the dangerous Turkey.

Of the seeds Belgium are clearly the weakest and Keegan would be relieved to get them even though they caused England problems at times during the recent friendly in Sunderland. The Dutch, while struggling through preparatory friendlies - they have drawn nearly all of them - are likely to show their true ability in competitive matches while Spain are in excellent form.

There are some other dangers lurking outside of that leading quartet. Romania and Sweden have both beaten England in major competitions during the last 18 months while France destroyed them at Wembley in February and their record against Norway is poor.

The draw will also be closely followed by Dutch and Belgian security officials. They will, in particular, be hoping England, the Netherlands and Germany are kept apart. English and German supporters both caused serious problems in last year's World Cup and the Low Countries are as accessible as France. The Dutch have fought with English and German fans in the past and their notorious domestic reputation was underlined when hooligans infiltrated a recent practice exercise and turned a pretend riot into a real one.

The bulk of England supporters will be hoping Keegan's team get drawn against the likes of the Czech Republic, Yugoslavia and, of the seeds, Spain, as that will reduce the demand on tickets and lower touts' prices.

Four hundred thousand tickets have already been sold, to English nationals and anyone else in Europe who applied - the EU having opened up ticket sales across the Continent after the France 98 debacle. These tickets have generally been bought without purchasers knowing who they would see. The only tickets still to be sold in this country will be for specific England matches and will only go to members of the England Travel Club.

Once the draw is made Keegan can finalise his plans for friendlies. Following the World Cup draw, Germany are no longer a candidate for one of the two blank Wembley dates in May - Brazil are pencilled in for the other - but the Dutch still are. That would obviously change if they are drawn with England.

So far Keegan has a Wembley friendly with Argentina on 23 February planned and a get-together in the spring proposed. After the Wembley matches he may take the team away for a training camp, possibly in Malta.

It is not a lot of time to sort out the problems within the team's structure - notably, what formation the XI will play? Who is going to play in attack? And who is going to play on the left? On that subject he may have noted with interest Darren Eadie's move to Leicester this week. Had it not been for injuries Eadie would have played for England under Glenn Hoddle in 1997. Keegan has constantly talked of players emerging late, as Geoff Hurst did in 1966. Could Eadie become the player he has been waiting for?