England to pay for Beckham's miss

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The Independent Football

Though England celebrated the draw in Istanbul which secured a place in the European Championships next summer, their failure to win will see them down among the second seeds when the draw for the finals is made on 30 November.

The four top seeds in Pot 1 will be the hosts, Portugal, the holders, France, plus Sweden and the Czech Republic. Aside from the hosts and holders, seeding is judged on results in the qualifying competitions for Euro 2004 and the 2002 World Cup. This is converted into the number of points won per game. Sweden and the Czech Republic have won 2.39 and 2.33 respectively.

The margin by which England missed being grouped among the élite is tiny, certainly less than the distance by which David Beckham skied his penalty on Saturday. England have won 37 points in the two campaigns, giving them a rating of 2.31 points per match. Victory in Istanbul would have given them 2.43, the best record of any qualifier bar the hosts and holders. That would have put them in Pot 1 ahead of the Czech Republic. Instead they will be in the second pot.

Scotland, should they qualify, will be in the third or, more likely, fourth pot, having scored 1.89 points. Wales, if they make it, will be firmly in the latter, with 1.22, the lowest ratio.

Several placings will depend on the outcome of play-offs, the draw for which is made in Frankfurt today. Should Spain or Turkey make it to the finals, they will also be in Pot 2. If either of them fail, Germany will be in that pot instead. Otherwise the Germans will be dangerous floaters in Pot 3, as might the Netherlands.

Such technicalities will do nothing to dampen England supporters' enthusiasm for the tournament, which will run for 31 matches between the curtain raiser in Oporto on 12 June and the final in Lisbon on 4 July. Indeed the prospect of seeing England pitted in the same group as France or Portugal plus perhaps Germany or the Netherlands, plus Wales or Scotland, if they make it, could whet appetites even more.

The greatest concern for the Football Association will be how to handle the large numbers of fans likely to travel. With England due to play a friendly against the hosts in Portugal in February, there will be the chance of a dry run to gauge things. England fans will be encouraged to travel to that game in the hope it passes off peacefully and sets a good precedent.

But until the tournament actually starts, there will be no reliable indicator of the scale of the travelling support, with or without tickets. With 19 of the 31 matches already sold out and only a few top-priced seats remaining at the other games, availability of "open sale" tickets will be small or nil by the time the draw is made next month. The FA's allocation will also be hugely over-subscribed when it becomes available. Participating FAs at each match will each get 20 per cent of the venues' capacity, which in most of the stadiums will equate to around 6,000 tickets. Only members of England's official supporters' club, englandfans, will be able to apply for these, and the club already has around 20,000 members.

Given Portugal's proximity, and the popularity of the Iberian Peninsula as a holiday destination, up to 50,000 England fans could attend the Championships. This will present obvious public order difficulties. In Istanbul the ban on travelling fans was a clear success. It was noticeable that the usual air of menace which surrounds England games was missing. There was not any sense that, in the vernacular, it could all "kick off" at any moment.

But banning English fans from all matches, while tempting, is not a realistic solution. Nor, said the FA, is it one it wishes to pursue. "We have no plans to make this a precedent," Paul Barber, the FA's marketing and communications director, said. He added that England fans will remain under scrutiny until next summer, however. "Uefa's threat of expulsion from Euro 2004 remains," he said.

Points-per-game ratios: 1 Sweden 2.39; 2 Czech Rep 2.33; 3= England, Italy, *Spain 2.31; 6 *Turkey 2.22; 7 Germany 2.18; 8 *Netherlands 2.17; 9 *Croatia 2.12; 10= Denmark, *Russia 2.06; 12= Bulgaria, *Slovenia; 14 *Scotland 1.81; 15 Switzerland 1.61; 16 Greece 1.56; 17 *Norway 1.33; 18 *Latvia 1.25; 19 *Wales 1.22.

*Yet to qualify through play-offs

Portugal (hosts) and France (holders) automatically seeded in Pot 1.

EURO 2004 LINE-UP

AUTOMATIC QUALIFIERS

Portugal (hosts)
France
Denmark
Czech Republic
Sweden
Germany
Greece
England
Bulgaria
Italy
Switzerland

PLAY-OFFS

Ties to be played on 15-16 and 18-19 November. Play-off draw to be made today in Frankfurt (10.15 GMT).

Slovenia
Norway
Netherlands
Latvia
Scotland
Spain
Turkey
Croatia
Wales
Russia

EURO 2004 FINALS

Draw: 30 November (in Lisbon)

The 16 teams will be divided into four groups of four. The top two teams in each group will advance to the quarter-finals, with a knock-out system in force from that stage.

Opening match: 12 June (Oporto)
Final: 4 July (Lisbon)

Venues

Aveiro (Stadium: Aveiro Municipal, capacity 30,000)
Braga (Braga Municipal, 30,000)
Coimbra (Coimbra Municipal, 30,000)
Faro-Loule (Algarve, 30,000)
Guimaraes (D Alfonso Henriques, 30,000)
Leiria (Dr Magalhaes Pessoa, 30,000)
Lisbon (Jose Alvalade 52.000; Luz 65,000)
Oporto (Dragao 52,000, Bessa 30,000)

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