England hope to avoid six-team group
Saturday 06 February 2010
It may seem a long way off – qualifying does not begin until September – but this weekend Fabio Capello can at least think about football matches rather than encounters of a sexual kind as he attends the draw in Warsaw for the next European Championship.
Like the eight other leading European nations, England have been seeded and they can afford to be relaxed about who they might meet; of the 42 possible opponents, none have beaten Capello's team in the two years since he became manager. What he would probably like to avoid is, firstly, being drawn in one of the six groups playing 10 games each; secondly, excessive travelling; and thirdly, if paradoxically, any local derbies against the home countries, who tend to raise their game for such occasions.
Six of the nine qualifying groups comprise six teams each, so one of the other three with only five teams would be preferable. Capello may also feel he has had more than his fill of eastern European opposition; 11 of his 17 matches in charge have been against those sides, including long trips to Croatia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.
As for more local opposition, it would be possible to meet one out of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, who are all in the same pot of third-ranked teams, plus Wales, who have some promising youngsters and are improving, but because of their recent failures are in the fourth of the six pots. Pots five and six respectively contain an awful lot of faraway destinations (Georgia, Moldova etc) and all the real minnows.
That leaves the second pot, in which Greece are the highest ranked team and Romania, who finished fifth in their World Cup section, the lowest. Sweden, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Serbia, Turkey, Denmark and Slovakia are the other possibilities.
With the joint hosts, Poland and Ukraine, qualifying automatically, each of the nine group winners go through, plus the best runners-up. The eight other runners-up then play off to complete the field for June 2012.
England's dream draw and worst nightmare
Slovakia (ranked 36th)
Republic of Ireland (37)
The draw takes place at 11am tomorrow, live on Sky Sports News and Eurosport.
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