Wales seek prestige of drawing England

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The Independent Football

Wales and Northern Ireland are hoping that today's draw for Euro 2004, which takes place at 11am in Oporto, will bring them a first meeting with England in 15 years or more.

Wales and Northern Ireland are hoping that today's draw for Euro 2004, which takes place at 11am in Oporto, will bring them a first meeting with England in 15 years or more. Both countries would happily take on the extra security worries of a visit from English supporters for the finance and prestige that home-and away games against Sven Goran Eriksson's team would bring.

After more than 100 years of regular matches, Wales have not played England since the home international tournament was wound up in the early Eighties. The Welsh won the last match, at Wrexham, in May 1984. "We've been asking for a game for long enough and they've been turning us down for long enough," a spokesman for the Football Association of Wales said. "It would be six points for us as well," he added bullishly.

Northern Ireland have been equally keen to revive matches against England and Scotland. They were drawn against England in qualifying for the 1986 World Cup (when both went through) and the following European Championship, but the teams have not met since England won 2-0 in Belfast in 1987. Since then Northern Ireland have been badly strapped for money, especially given the need to redevelop Windsor Park. Whereas England and Scotland will be hoping to avoid seeded teams like France, Italy, Germany – and the Republic of Ireland – that is just the sort of attractive opposition that Wales and Northern Ireland will be hoping for.

The 50 entrants have been divided into 10 groups of five, the 10 winners going through to the finals and the runners-up meeting in five play-off matches, with Portugal, as hosts, making up the 16 finalists.

France, the world and European champions, have been officially nominated as top seeds, a device which enables them to be placed among the top 10 seeds, ahead of Russia, who have an identical record.

Neither England nor Scotland are among the top 10, having been ranked only 17th and 20th respectively in a table based on qualifying results for the current World Cup and Euro 2000. They must therefore take on one of the leading 10 countries, who also include Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic, Romania, Belgium and Turkey. The Republic of Ireland are ranked as high as equal fifth, an extraordinary achievement; even though they missed out on Euro 2000, a record of 40 points from 18 qualifying games (play-offs are not included) gives them a co-efficient of 2.222, which is bettered only by Sweden, Spain, Czech Republic and Germany.

England won only three out of eight matches in qualifying for Euro 2000, while it took David Beckham's famous last-minute free-kick against Greece to confirm a place at this summer's World Cup finals.

England took 30 points from 16 games (a co-efficient of 1.875) and Scotland 33 points from 18 (1.833). Both would probably hope to be drawn in the same group as either Romania or the Czech Republic, neither of whom will be at the World Cup this summer.

The third tier, from 21 to 30, is headed by Austria and Norway, neither of whom look particular dangerous on current form. Wales (ranked 34th) and Northern Ireland (37th), neither of whom have reached the final stages of the competition, will, as usual, be balancing remote prospects of qualifying with the chance to make some money.

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