Spain get ‘easy’ Euro draw
NICE, France (AP) – Two-time defending European champion Spain face a seemingly comfortable road to defend their title at Euro 2016 after being drawn in Group C along with Luxembourg, Macedonia, Belarus, Slovakia and Ukraine today.
“It’s not as easy a group as it might appear to some. We are facing emerging teams who are young and strong,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. “The cold conditions could play a role in the group because many of the trips will be to teams from the east.”
The Netherlands were drawn in a tougher-looking Group A and face the Czech Republic, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Iceland and Latvia.
“The Dutch are the favourites. Together with them, it will be us, Turkey and Iceland fighting to advance,” Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Czech said. “We have to cope with it if we want to go to France.”
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.
Host France are the 24th team and automatically qualified. They will play matches in Group I, but no points will be awarded for their matches.
UEFA made the change because host nations can struggle to arrange suitable friendlies while others focus on qualification.
Germany, the runners-up to Spain at Euro 2008, are in Group D and have 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.
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 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 were 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, 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 complete Group I, although Didier Deschamps’ men have no bearing on the outcome.