Euro 2016: Hosts France to take part in qualifying - but no points will be awarded

The games involving Les Bleus will be classed as friendlies

England could face tournament hosts France in their Euro 2016 qualifying group under a radical rule change from UEFA.

France will be the first host nation to take part in a European Championships qualification phase.

Les Bleus will retain automatic tournament qualification, with their group-stage contests serving as friendlies where no points will be awarded.

The regulation shift means France will be added to the group-stage draw, creating nine pools of six teams. Previous competitions have had eight pools of six teams and one comprising five.

UEFA will confirm the six seeding pots on Friday, ahead of the pool-stage draw in Nice on February 23.

UEFA's new rule is outlined in Euro 2016 regulation article 21.02, which reads: "The teams drawn into the group of five teams will have France added to their group for the purpose of playing centralised friendlies."

England could face star-studded Belgium, Martin O'Neill's Republic of Ireland or even familiar opponents Croatia or Sweden, should they fall into top-tier Pot 1 as expected.

UEFA will confirm the seeding positions after their two-day executive committee meeting in Nyon, Switzerland.

Roy Hodgson's England should be named among the top seeds courtesy of their unbeaten record in securing automatic qualification for World Cup 2014.

Croatia, who blocked England's qualification to Euro 2008, could face England again, if they end up in Pot 2 as expected.

Home and away qualifying ties against manager O'Neill and assistant Roy Keane's Ireland would be bound to stir a few souls.

Ireland would certainly relish an opportunity at a scalp as they seek to capitalise on the good feeling generated by their new taskmaster management duo.

England though, could be forgiven for being more concerned about the prospect of facing Belgium.

Chelsea's Everton loanee Romelu Lukaku and Stamford Bridge playmaker Eden Hazard are the tip of an increasingly accomplished iceberg for the Belgians, led by Manchester City talisman Vincent Kompany.

Gibraltar, accepted as a separate UEFA member state after winning a court of arbitration in sport ruling, will be among the countries in the draw for the first time.

It is understood UEFA will aim to keep Gibraltar and Spain apart in the qualifying draw, the fixture among those the governing body aim to avoid due to political sensitivity.

PA

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