England to be in second tier for Euro 2004

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The Independent Online

The Republic of Ireland are likely to be seeded for the next European Championship qualifying campaign but England, despite securing their place in the World Cup, can expect to be relegated to the second tier.

The Republic of Ireland are likely to be seeded for the next European Championship qualifying campaign but England, despite securing their place in the World Cup, can expect to be relegated to the second tier.

This is the probable reward for Ireland's efforts in the World Cup qualifying campaign even though they do not yet know whether they will reach Japan and South Korea, or even who stands in their way.

In January, in Porto, the draw will be made for the qualifying stages of the 2004 European Championship and Ireland are likely to be among the top seeds. Germany can expect to be chosen too but England and Scotland, both among the élite last time, may only just scrape into the second tier.

Though the ranking formula is yet to be confirmed, the signs are that Uefa, the sport's European governing body, will follow the same system it used for Euro 2000, which took into account the points-per-game average achieved in qualifying for the most recent World Cup and European Championship.

Though the Irish failed to reach Euro 2000, and will have to negotiate a play-off to reach the World Cup, they took 40 points from their 18 qualifiers to give them the sixth-best average in Europe. This should guarantee a top seeding, just reward for their efforts in two extremely tough campaigns.

It may also be the prelude to a draw so tempting as to persuade Mick McCarthy not to seek a Premiership job regardless of the result of their forthcoming play-off. Incidentally, had Uefa not offered the Asian Confederation a play-off to ease a political row within Fifa, the sport's world governing body, Ireland would now have qualified as the group runner-up with the best record in European qualifying.

Unlike Ireland, England reached Euro 2000 and have already qualified for World Cup 2002 but neither process was convincing. With 30 points from 16 qualifiers they are merely 18th best in Europe, just sufficient for a second tier seeding.

Scotland's status depends on the Uefa executive and the one outstanding World Cup qualifying tie between Israel and Austria. At present Scotland are 21st and will stay there if Austria fail to win the delayed match. For the last tournament that would have resulted in the third tier classification. However, with only Portugal qualifying as hosts this time, as against both Belgium and the Netherlands in 2000, Uefa has to divide 50 entrants into 15 places. It may thus opt for an unprecedented 10 groups with winners qualifying automatically and runners-up playing-off.

With hosts Portugal pre-qualified and out of the equation, Scotland would move up to 20th and squeeze into the second level if Austria fail. Had David Beckham's equaliser not secured England a point at Old Trafford on Saturday they would be in the Scots' position.

Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to be in the fourth of five bandings facing another tough draw. They may find consolation in the knowledge that, four years ago, Poland were similarly graded but are now headed for a World Cup. Sweden, in the third band then, have since won 15 and drawn three of their 18 qualifiers. They top the rankings followed by Spain, the Czech Republic, Portugal and, despite coming second this week to England, Germany. Romania and Italy should also be seeded. France, as holders, are automatically seeded.

A decision is likely to be made on the qualifying structure at the Uefa executive's December meeting, with the seeds confirmed a few days before the draw.

With 232 days until the World Cup kicks off in Seoul, the message from Korea yesterday was: "Behave – or our girls will get you."

The Korean authorities announced yesterday that they plan to send martial arts-trained policewomen on to the frontline. The Korean Tourist Board marketing manager Nigel Lloyd said that there will be booze aplenty but that drunken fans should watch their step.

"The supporters will be allowed to drink," Lloyd said. "The Koreans like a drink and there seems to be a certain amount of worldwide ignorance of what Koreans are like."

But he warned: "There's more than a possibility that the frontline of policewomen could be brought in to defuse potentially difficult situations. These girls are trained in kung fu and martial arts and could floor anyone."

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