Just as four years ago, the presence of two inferior host countries as top seeds will unbalance the draw for next summer's European Championship finals, which is being made in Kiev on Friday at 5pm.
Among the beneficiaries, however, could be England, for Fabio Capello's swansong, and the Republic of Ireland, who will take part in their first Euros since Jack Charlton's squad made an international breakthrough in 1988.
Had the four teams who are ranked highest under Uefa's complicated coefficent system all been seeded, England and Ireland would each have faced one of Spain, Holland, Germany or Italy.
Now there is a 50 per cent chance of meeting either Poland or Ukraine. The latter can reasonably claim that, ranked 15th, they deserve to be in the finals regardless, though their recent results have been mixed – a 3-3 draw with Germany this month, but losing 4-1 to France and 4-0 to the Czech Republic.
Poland, however, are no higher than 28th in Europe – and 66th in the world – and finished below Northern Ireland in their last World Cup qualifying group. Whoever they play in June, Arsenal's goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny can expect to have plenty of work to do.
Home advantage should inspire any hosts, though at the last tournament Austria and Switzerland gained insufficient benefit and won only one game between them. So the Poles will be the top seeds every country wishes to be drawn with. England's other favoured opponents would be Sweden, who were poor at Wembleythis month – though beaten only1-0 – or Greece, who four years ago lost all three games in defence of their surprise 2004 title; plus from the weakest pot the Czech Republic rather than Ireland, who could be banked on to raise their game as they did in beating Bobby Robson's side at the 1988 finals and drawing with them at the World Cup two years later.
The teams to avoid are Spain, the defending champions, and Holland from pot one and France, who are currently reviving under Laurent Blanc and by far the strongest side in pot four, as they showed in winning at Wembley a year ago.
Should England and the Republic avoid each other, there is every chance of a friendly between the two in Dublin during May, which would be the first meeting since the game there in February 1995 was abandoned after 27 minutes because of crowd trouble. England will play one other warm-up friendly in May, as well as another at the end of February against Holland, subject to not being drawn against them.
Even though England have decided to base themselves in Krakow, there is a 50 per cent chance of playing all three group matches in Ukraine.
The Republic will decide where their base will be after the draw, which is expected to be the customary lengthy affair and will be featuring entertainment from "asurprise international artist".Reuse content