England were the last team to be drawn out of the glass bowls in Kiev last night, after a typically overblown ceremony. They will hope to be the last team remaining come 1 July as well.
It is possible. The draw has given Fabio Capello a decent chance of taking England to their first European Championship final in the competition's 52 years. France, Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine represent a tricky but negotiable group. Should both teams win their groups England should then avoid Spain with, according to form, Italy the quarter-final opponents. Then it would be a German team who look in much better shape than they were when thrashing England in Bloemfontein 18 months ago. Hmmn. Best not to speculate too much.
First England must escape Group D, without, probably, Wayne Rooney, whose appeal against his three-match suspension will be heard on Thursday.
France are the biggest danger. Under Laurent Blanc they are much recovered from the team which disgraced the tricolore in South Africa, but they are not the finished article by any means. There are still cliques within the ranks and their nervy draw against Bosnia in Paris in October, which secured their qualification, underlined that they remain a work in progress.
Ukraine are a better side than their Fifa ranking (55) suggests because friendly matches are low-rated and that is all they have played for two years. Hosts are also always difficult opponents. Capello will hope either England are through, or Ukraine out, by the time they meet in the same Donbass Arena that England were beaten in,with Rob Green dismissed, in 2009. That, though, was a dead rubber for England in 2010 World Cup qualifying.
Sweden are obdurate opponents, with a high-calibre player in Zlatan Ibrahimovic who, in his quixotic way, may finally decide this is the time to turn it on against English opposition. However, they looked poor when England beat them last month at Wembley, a result for which Capello will be grateful as it ended a hoodoo that went back a dozen matches to 1968.
Former England captain Paul Ince was unfeasibly pleased with the draw. He said: "Overall we have to be delighted. It is a fantastic group for us. When you look at the groups we have had, in qualification and in the World Cup, the gods have been smiling down on us and they have certainly done it again tonight. If we can't get ourselves through that group we have only got ourselves to blame. On paper it looks easy."
That, it almost certainly will not be. The reality, for all the plotting of England's path to the final, is that the three lions will need to hit form collectively, avoid injury, and have a slice of luck , if they are to reach the final. Notwithstanding the recent result at Wembley, England are way behind the likes of Spain and Germany and that will not change in six months.
This will not stop thousands of fans following England, though the logistics will give many pause for thought. Having already decided, come what may, to base themselves in Poland, England could reach the final and not play once there. But if the players will be well-acquainted with Krakow's airport by the end of Euro 2012, the fans will have an unwanted in-depth knowledge of the Ukrainian railway system.
This will have one benefit for the publicity-conscious Football Association. Even accounting for the fact that footballers tend to behave better than rugby players at tournaments, the FA was concerned at the possibility of players or, more likely, WAGS, bumping into fans in the many bars and restaurants of Krakow. Those fans will now be thousands of miles away trying to negotiate the traffic of Kiev, or find one of the few hotels in Donetsk.
If Euro 2012 will test the co-hosts' infrastructure, and visitors' patience, it should be absorbing, with Group B providing plenty of interest. Picking a winner is tricky, but at this distance Germany, young, hungry, very talented, with a leavening of experience and close geographically, look stronger even than Spain, if they can survive their group.
Euro 2012 tickets
*Fans wishing to follow England at Euro 2012 can apply for tickets either through the Football Association website or Uefa. The FA will receive a set allocation for each group game and 5,000 for any subsequent knock-out matches, with priority given to Gold England Fans members.
Tickets on the Uefa website will be available until March, and prices range from £39-£215 for group games to £43-£515 for the final.Reuse content