Play-off stumble means Pearce's side are handed tough finals draw

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The Independent Football

England were yesterday were handed arguably the toughest possible draw for next summer's Under-21 European Championship after landing Spain, the Czech Republic and Ukraine in the group stage.

Stuart Pearce's side, who were runners-up last year and semi-finalists in 2007, appeared to pay the price for narrowly failing to secure seeded status for the tournament in Denmark as they found themselves in a strong-looking Group B.

Group A appears on paper to be much easier, containing the hosts, Switzerland, Belarus and Iceland, who were seeded ahead of England by the narrowest of margins.

England drew Spain for the second time in a row, having beaten them during the group phase in 2009. They will begin next summer's campaign against the Spanish on 12 June in Herning, where they will also play Ukraine four days later. They then take on the Czechs in Viborg on 19 June, with the top two from the group securing semi-final spots.

Unlike senior tournaments such as the World Cup and European Championship, seedings for the Under-21 Championship are based solely on results during the qualifying campaign and play-off matches. The Czech Republic were top seeds after winning nine and drawing one of their matches, while Spain were also seeded having won eight of their 10 games.

Ukraine cannot be taken lightly either, having reached the play-off round unbeaten before edging past the Netherlands to secure their finals spot. Denmark were the other top seeds courtesy of their status as tournament hosts.

England would have been seeded ahead of Iceland had they won both legs of their play-off against Romania instead of recording a win and a draw. They also would have been top seeds ahead of the Czechs had performances at previous finals been taken into account.

Indeed, England, Spain and Belarus are the only survivors from the 2009 event as major nations such as the champions Germany, Italy, France, Portugal and the Netherlands all failed to qualify. The tournament will be played in Aarhus, Aalborg, Herning and Viborg, starting on 11 June, with the final in Aarhus a fortnight later.

Meanwhile, Stuart Baxter, the former England Under-19 coach, has not had his contract to manage the Finland national team renewed. The Scot took over in 2008 but saw his adopted country lose Euro 2012 qualifiers against Moldova and Hungary this autumn to herald his departure.