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Safety net for hosts France, comfortable draw for Spain

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-23

France is set to be the first host nation to take part in a European Championships qualification phase while retaining automatic qualification. Defending European champions Spain face a seemingly easy group to defend its title.

UEFA made the change because host nations can struggle to arrange suitable friendlies while others focus on qualification, however, no points will result from their fixtures.

France is set to play matches in Group I, where it will meet Portugal, Denmark, Serbia, Armenia, Albania.

"Now we know the ten games we have to play. It’s pretty good to play a team like Portugal, as they will be prestigious matches. There will be other good European teams in Serbia and Denmark, as well as long trips to Armenia and Albania." Didier Deschamps, France coach said immediately after Sunday’s draw.

Two-time defending European champion Spain faces a seemingly comfortable road to defend its title after being drawn in Group C along with Luxembourg, Macedonia, Belarus, Slovakia and Ukraine on Sunday.

"It's not as easy a group as it might appear to some,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. “We are facing emerging teams who are young and strong. The cold conditions could play a role in the group because many of the trips will be to teams from the east."

Tough draw for the Netherlands

The Netherlands was drawn in a tougher-looking Group A and faces the Czech Republic, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Iceland and Latvia.

There will be eight groups of six teams and one of five, each playing home and away. The top two teams from the nine groups qualify, along with the best third-placed side. The eight remaining third-placed sides will contest play-offs with four spots at stake.

Germany, the runner-up to Spain at Euro 2008, is in Group D and has potentially awkward matches against the Republic of Ireland and Poland — led by Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski — with Gibraltar, Georgia and Scotland also in the group.

Easy group for England?

England will be pleased with what looks like a winnable Group E featuring Switzerland, San Marino, Lithuania, Estonia and Slovenia.

But Wales' bid to qualify might mean going through the playoffs as Group B contains Eden Hazard's Belgium and the attacking strength of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is completed by Andorra, Cyprus and Israel.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed out on this year's World Cup after Sweden was beaten by Portugal in a thrilling playoff, but the prolific Paris Saint-Germain forward should grace the fields of France in two years' time. Sweden and Russia are likely to lead Group G, where Liechtenstein, Moldova, Montenegro and Austria look to be up against it.

Italy, runners-up to France in 2000 and Spain in 2012, will be confident of winning Group H, despite facing Croatia, Norway and Bulgaria. The other teams are Malta and Azerbaijan.

Group F, however, seems to be the most open one and it is hard to call the top two from 2004 champion Greece, Finland, Romania, improving Northern Ireland and Hungary. All of them should take maximum points against perpetual minnow, the Faeroe Islands.

Having guided Portugal to the World Cup with a brilliant playoff performance against Sweden — outshining even Ibrahimovic — Cristiano Ronaldo will need to find his scoring touch to keep Portugal ahead of Serbia and Denmark in Group I, and trips to Albania and Armenia are sometimes tricky.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

 

Date created : 2014-02-23

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