Football: Euro' 2000 draw: Keegan faces another German test

t EURO 2000 FINALS DRAW Romania and Portugal complete group in which England are pitted against World Cup adversaries
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The Independent Online
PLEASED, PERHAPS, by the response to pairing England and Germany in last week's World Cup 2002 qualifying draw, the footballing Gods yesterday decided to repeat the trick for the Euro 2000 finals. Add in the World Cup 2006 bid and England's footballing destiny for the next seven years will be intertwined with that of its greatest and bitterest rivals.

England have also been drawn, in next summer's European Championship finals, with Portugal, who they play first in Eindhoven on Monday 12 June; and Romania who they meet last in Charleroi on Tuesday 20 June. Charleroi, an industrial town in the south of Belgium, is also the location for the much-anticipated German game on Saturday 17 June.

This match is a security nightmare and a tout's dream, as the Pays de Charleroi Stadium only holds 30,323. Tickets will also be limited for the match in Eindhoven where the capacity is just 33,000.

It is a hard draw. Germany's hold over England is well known - since the 1966 Wembley meeting, they have knocked England out of three World Cups and two European Championships, but the others are equally difficult. Since beating Romania in the 1970 World Cup, England have won three of 26 matches against these opponents and only once beaten any of them in 14 years. Even that match, a 3-0 victory over Portugal at Wembley in April 1998, was very flattering.

"My first thought was that it was a tough draw," said the England manager, Kevin Keegan, "but all the groups are tough." Group D, with Holland, the Czech Republic, France and Denmark does indeed look as strong but Groups B and C are weaker. Keegan, as ever, was undaunted, adding: "There's no reason why we can't come through the group."

As in Tokyo on Tuesday the Anglo-German match-up, which came near the end of the draw, created the biggest audience response of the draw, a ripple of "oohs" followed by involuntary laughter.

"It was predictable, call it fate," said Sir Bobby Charlton who added: "I think we'll beat them in all three, the World Cup bid, the World Cup qualifiers, and here. If we do I'll be a very happy man."

Charlton's first reaction was to say to Franz Beckenbauer, his friend and former adversary, "here we go again". The legendary German said: "Both teams have had problems but both could win the competition. Whatever team England put out will be difficult to beat."

Keegan's response was to find Erich Ribbeck, the German manager, and say: "We might as well go on holiday together, take our families, really get to know each other."

Ribbeck was surprised at the draw but added: "I'm happy with the chance to show a very good England team what we can do. "We both have a lot in common," Keegan said.

"The Germans have not set the place on fire and it is the same with England," he added.

The England coach, while accepting that the German game would provoke the most interest, was keen to ensure the "focus is on the first game as that sets the standard. It will mean nothing if we beat Germany and not the others."

He added: "Portugal are a fantastic footballing side who have not really got the results they deserve in the past."

Humberto Coelho, the Portuguese manager, agreed that "the first match is the most important," adding: "England are a very inconsistent team. They have good days and bad days, I hope we meet them on one of their bad days."

If the Portugal match recalls the 1966 World Cup semi-final victory, and the 1986 World Cup defeat when Ray Wilkins was sent off, the Romanian memory is of last summer's 2-1 loss in Toulouse. Keegan, who was commentating at the time, recalled: "At 1-1 I said, `only one team is going to win this' and I meant England. Then Dan Petrescu scored for them in the last minute."

With Romania between coaches (Emerich Jenei does not take over until next month), Dumitru Moraru, their assistant coach, represented them and he said: "Toulouse is history and we will have to train hard to prove it was not also an accident."

Referring to England's bottom seeding he added: "I don't think England are the weakest team in the group. In my opinion they are one of the strongest teams in the world and I'm sure at Euro 2000 they will prove great value."

Keegan will certainly hope so. Noel White, the head of the International Committee, who sat next to Keegan at the draw, said at the weekend that success would be reaching the semi-finals. Since England have only ever won five matches in European Championship finals - one a third-place play- off (1968), one a "dead" game (1980), and three at home, one of which was on penalties (1996) - this is a tall order.

Pressed on it Keegan said: "There is no reason why we cannot do that with the talent we have. We have a real chance but we need to play better than we have been recently. Results have not been as good as they should but now we have some time together and we need that, all teams do."

While the FA look for a suitable base for the summer (the Germans have already secured theirs), Keegan will seek a European opponent, probably the Dutch, for England's final warm-up. Argentina and Brazil are already booked for Wembley which has proved fortunate since their style of play, with its range of tempos and emphasis on ball-rotation, is not dissimilar to both Portugal and Romania.

Keegan picked out Figo of Portugal, Hagi and Adrian Ilie of Romania, and Oliver Bierhoff and Middlesbrough's Christian Ziege of Germany, as players to beware. He will hope, though, that the men walking tall in the Low Countries next summer will be names such as Manchester United's David Beckham, Liverpool's Michael Owen and the Arsenal captain, Tony Adams.

Noting the buzz that went round the hall when England's destiny was decided he added: "The English game is so big people feel there is something missing in a tournament if England are not in it. Now we have to do our reputation justice."

England's opponents, page 3

EURO 2000 DRAW

GROUP A

Germany

Romania

Portugal

England

GROUP B

Belgium

Sweden

Turkey

Italy

GROUP C

Spain

Norway

Yugoslavia

Slovenia

GROUP D

Netherlands

Czech Republic

France

Denmark

ENGLAND'S FIXTURES

England v Portugal 12 June, 7.45 BST, Eindhoven

England v Germany 17 June, 7.45, Charleroi

England v Romania 20 June, 7.45, Charleroi

Full Euro 2000 guide: Page 5

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