Eusebio, making the draw for the qualifying rounds of Euro 2004 in Oporto on his 60th birthday yesterday, threw his old adversaries, England, into a security tizz by handing them a trip to Turkey, where two Leeds United supporters died two years ago. From a purely footballing point of view, it was a good draw for the English, who also take on three countries they have never met before in Slovakia, Macedonia and Liechtenstein.
The Republic of Ireland can win their group, in which Russia are the main challengers, and Scotland – who should have Berti Vogts in place as head coach before meeting his country, Germany – will be optimistic about a play-off place. Wales and Northern Ireland were given one financially lucrative game, against Italy and Spain respectively, in groups that were otherwise predictably daunting.
But it was the renewal of hostilities between England and Turkey that stood out from a long-winded ceremony, which began with Lennart Johansson, the president of the European governing body, Uefa, expressing the impossible hope that "everyone gets the draw they want most". Turkey would have been a long way down the Football Association's wish-list after the events of 2000.
Leeds came close to pulling out of their Uefa Cup semi-final against Galatasaray when two of their fans were stabbed to death the night before the game, and there were unpleasant scenes at the return leg in Yorkshire a fortnight later. Arsenal and Galatasaray followers clashed violently in Copenhagen before the final, and when Leeds returned to Istanbul the following October to play Besiktas an English bus was stoned.
Adam Crozier, the FA's chief executive, said last night: "We've done a lot of work with the Turkish FA and they're just as positive as we are. I hope we can meet with them again to ensure that all goes off safely. It's our job to make sure we can look forward to having a safe game and we need to make sure the right arrangements are in place, once we know where the game will be played."
Dates for matches will be decided in the near future at special fixture meetings of all the countries involved, at which there is traditionally much hard bargaining. Although England have been happy in recent campaigns to visit their closest rivals late on, that would be an unwise strategy this time if it meant that the game might decide which team won the group, adding even further tension to the occasion. The situation would also be defused slightly if Turkey followed their recent practice of taking on England in Izmir, rather than Istanbul, where Bobby Robson's team won 8-0 on their only visit in 1984.
Sven Goran Eriksson admitted to being "happy" with the draw, for which his team were not among the top 10 seeds. "It's good to have avoided France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the big, big football countries," he said. "So I'm a little bit happier today than I was after the draw for the World Cup. I've never been to Istanbul for football, but I think it will be very nice." That remains to be seen.
Once the World Cup finals are over, Eriksson will seek assistance and information from one of England's opponents there, his home country, Sweden, who played Turkey, Slovakia and Macedonia in their qualifying group, dropping points only at home to Turkey (1-1) and away to the Slovaks (0-0).
Vogts, once he has agreed final terms with the Scottish Football Association, will have a wealth of knowledge to offer his new employers about Germany, whom he coached from 1990-98. Iceland are the third-ranked team in their group, with Lithuania and the Faroe Islands as the minnows.
The Republic of Ireland face the sort of trips they have learned to survive in the past, with visits to Russia, Georgia and Albania, plus a more attractive one to Switzerland. Their manager, Mick McCarthy, said: "I think it'll be a hard-working group with everyone talking points off each other. Russia could have been top seeds. I saw Albania play England and they're tough. I don't think any one team will run away with it."
The Wales manager, Mark Hughes, admitted that his first reaction was "maybe a little bit of deflation". Though they have landed the financial windfall of a visit from Italy, who should fill the Millennium Stadium, Yugoslavia and Finland will be difficult to overcome.
Northern Ireland face an even tougher task against Spain, Ukraine, Greece and Armenia, as well as the possible loss of a lucrative friendly at home to the Spanish, who were due at Windsor Park in April, but may now cancel the fixture .
In the other groups, France and the Netherlands could hardly have done any better. The European and world champions will be expected to canter through a section involving Slovenia, Israel, Cyprus and Malta. The Dutch are in the only group not containing a team going to the World Cup finals, having drawn the Czech Republic, Austria, Belarus and Moldova.
Croatia and Denmark, ranked among the second seeds, could qualify ahead of the top seeds in their sections, Belgium and Romania. But Sweden should win Group Four ahead of Poland.Reuse content