Football: England sent to the bottom of Euro 2000 class

ENGLAND COULD be faced with the sternest of tests in the European Championship next year after Uefa, European football's governing body, revealed yesterday that they were one of the bottom seeds for next summer's finals.

They could as a consequence be placed, when the draw is made in Brussels on Sunday 12 December, in the same group as Germany (the holders), Sweden (England's qualifying group conquerors) and France (the World Cup holders). Alternatively, they could be matched with the Netherlands (the co-hosts), Romania (who beat England in the World Cup) and Italy.

Uefa has ranked its 51 member nations in order of their performances in the qualifying tournaments for both the current Championships and the 1998 World Cup. This has had the - probably desired - effect of ensuring that Spain (a country awash with wealthy television companies) will be a top seed rather than the Czech Republic (which has relatively impoverished television companies), despite the latter being the runners-up in Euro 96 and having the only perfect qualifying record for Euro 2000.

As a side-effect of this calculation, England - due to their stuttering qualifying campaign - are 17th in the overall rankings (three places below Scotland) and 13th of the 16 qualifiers.

Uefa is yet to decide how to make the draw but will keep apart Germany, who are the top seeds, Spain and the co-hosts, the Netherlands and Belgium.

There are three options as to how the other 12 countries may be drawn. They will either all come from the same pot, or be separated into second seeds (Romania, Norway, Sweden, Czech Republic) and the rest, or be drawn from three different pots. If it is the latter, then England will be in the last and lowliest pot with Turkey, Denmark and Slovenia.

Given the overall strength of the tournament, England's lowly ranking may not turn out to be too much of a handicap. Even Slovenia, the presumed whipping boys, have just beaten the Ukraine in the play-offs.

As the competing nations were digesting yesterday's news, the organisers of Euro 2000 were playing down speculation that England's qualification for the tournament might create unwanted security problems.

"There has been some concern in the papers here [about English hooligans]," Richard Van Der Eijk, a Euro 2000 spokesman said yesterday. "But we very much want England to be a part of this tournament. The English will be very welcome, as long as they behave."

Wednesday's play-off against Scotland passed without trouble at Wembley, although the police were called to skirmishes in the centre of London and the first leg in Glasgow was marred by more than 100 arrests.

Van der Eijk said that there would not be any need to step up security now that England were through "because those special measures have already been taken". He added: "Our preparations started in 1996. The police will take the strongest measures to stop any trouble."

Around 400,000 of the 1.2m tickets for the tournament have already been bought via a general sale. "We have only sold tickets on a named basis and every one of the 1.2m tickets will have a name printed on them," Van der Eijk said. "For the tickets that will be distributed by national football associations, those FAs have an obligation to send us a list of everyone who has bought tickets. That means that people who have caused trouble in the past should not get tickets."

Addressing the question of those hooligans who bypass security measures to attend, he added: "We will make sure that English hooligans don't come and ruin our festival."

England supporters wanting to buy tickets for next year's finals will have to order them, after the 12 December draw, through the FA. The allocation will generally be a 16 per cent share of the ground capacity, rising to 20 per cent in the largest stadiums. If England play in Liege (capacity 30,000), for example, 5,000 tickets will be available. If they play in Rotterdam (capacity 50,000), the quota will rise to 10,000.

Aside from the 33 per cent of tickets on general sale and 35 per cent to competing nations, 14 per cent will go to sponsors, eight per cent to the media, five per cent to hospitality packages and five per cent to Fifa, Uefa and national associations.

EURO 2000 SEEDINGS

The 16 qualifiers for next year's European Championship finals will be split into four groups. The top four seeds have already been decided. Uefa is considering three possible methods of arranging the seeds:

OPTION 1

Pot A: Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Spain

Pot B: Romania, Norway, Sweden, Czech Republic, Yugoslavia, Portugal, France, Italy, England, Turkey, Denmark, Slovenia

OPTION 2

Pot A: Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Spain

Pot B: Romania, Norway, Sweden, Czech Republic

Pot C: Yugoslavia, Portugal, France, Italy, England, Turkey, Denmark, Slovenia

OPTION 3

Pot A: Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Spain

Pot B: Romania, Norway, Sweden, Czech Republic

Pot C: Yugoslavia, Portugal, France, Italy

Pot D: England, Turkey, Denmark, Slovenia

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