Draw marks start of road to bloated Euro 2016

22 February 2014 01:32

With the continent's leading nations currently focused on the build-up to this year's World Cup in Brazil, they could be forgiven for paying little attention to Sunday's Euro 2016 qualifying draw.

The draw, which will be held in the southern French city of Nice, marks the start of a new period in the history of the European Championship.

Before the 2020 tournament is held in 13 different host cities across Europe, the finals in France will be the first to comprise of 24 nations.

It is a far cry from the eight-nation event when France last held the tournament back in 1984 and doubters are unconvinced about the move to step up from the 16-team format that made Euro 2012 such a success.

The move will take much of the drama away from the qualifying campaign, with 23 of the 53 nations involved - almost half - advancing to the finals along with the hosts.

With the top two teams in each of the nine qualifying groups progressing along with the best third-placed team - the remaining third-placed sides will play off for four more berths - the chances of seeing any major nations miss out on a bloated Euro 2016 seem virtually non-existent.

That is undoubtedly what UEFA want, as the failure of a continental giant, like England in 2008, to qualify can only have a negative impact on the amount of revenue they can generate.

But it means Roy Hodgson's side, two-time reigning champions Spain, Germany, Italy and others will scarcely be tested en route to the finals and may lead to indifference among fans.

- Opportunity for lesser lights -

This is, though, an opportunity for some of the lesser lights on the continent to return to a major tournament, or even qualify for the first time.

Scotland, whose last tournament appearance came at the 1998 World Cup in France, have been rejuvenated in recent times under Gordon Strachan and are hopeful of continuing their improvement.

"I'm excited about it. I don't like to plan anything. I plan training sessions, that's about the only thing I plan," said Strachan when asked about his hopes for the draw, which could see Scotland, who are in the fourth pot of seeds, be paired with their old rivals England.

"I'm really not fussed. I enjoy meeting up with the players and playing anybody who is put in front of us.

"I think everyone enjoyed the England game and I suppose most people would like that and I'm no different," added Strachan, whose team lost 3-2 in a friendly at Wembley last August.

Sunday will also be a special day for Gibraltar, with the tiny British Overseas Territory on the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula being involved in a qualifying campaign for the first time since their admission to UEFA.

The territory of just six square kilometres in size and 30,000 people will be in the sixth and last pot of seeds along with the likes of San Marino and Liechtenstein, although their miniscule prospects of qualifying for the finals are perhaps helped ever so slightly by UEFA's decision to keep them and Spain - which has long asserted its claim to the territory - separate for political reasons.

"People might say it is not realistic and it's crazy but I want Gibraltar to be respected," manager Allen Bula told the BBC prior to a creditable 0-0 draw with Slovakia in their first friendly match back in November.

"Liechtenstein are minnows and they are respected. That is my target."

The campaign will see qualifying matches spread over six days, from Thursdays to Tuesdays, in what UEFA are triumphing as the 'Week of Football' format.

The first matches will be played on September 7, and host nation France, despite qualifying automatically, will be involved too, with Les Bleus playing what UEFA have termed "centralised friendlies" against the teams from the one five-nation group.

Source: AFP

World Cup Group G

Belgium 1 0 0 3 3
England 1 0 0 1 3
Tunisa 0 0 1 -1 0
Panama 0 0 1 -3 0
Last updated : 08:44