After an hour of build up and rigmarole, featuring the now standard parade of ex-pros and video clips that comes with any group draw that Fifa or Uefa are involved in, the draw was as follows:
Ostensibly the weakest group on paper. Russia will no doubt be happy with the draw here, but I would suggest each of the other teams will be too. Difficult to choose the outstanding teams here but Russia look the strongest and Poland are by no means out of contention in this group. The Greeks and Czechs both look like they will struggle to score goals and as such, may struggle against the resolute Russians and the Poles, who seem to have a pacey strike-force capable of hurting teams on the break.
Tough draw all round. The competition will certainly lose one of the contenders before the knockout stage is reached. Despite the strength in depth of the group here, it is difficult to look beyond Netherlands and Germany to qualify from it. Denmark and Portugal will renew rivalries from the qualifying stages, with the Portuguese undoubtedly looking to exact some revenge on the side that denied them an automatic qualifying spot.
Republic of Ireland
Oh Ireland. They will be hard-pressed to get out of this group, but they are certainly not dead in the water. It is hard to see them coming away from the game against Spain with anything. It is difficult to determine which Italy side will turn up to this tournament, with definite question marks over their strike-force. Admittedly, Ireland’s record against them in their qualifying group was less than dazzling, but I am sure that Trappatoni is relishing the prospect of facing his compatriots. As for Croatia, Modric will almost certainly be pulling the strings but they lack an out-and-out goal scorer really and will be there for the taking if Ireland can produce the goods. Difficult for the Irish, but there is a chance.
All things considered, not a bad draw at all for Capello. The travelling involved in this group (to Donetsk and Kiev respectively) may cause a rethink of England’s base in Krakow however. The opening game against France could be massive and will certainly set the tone for England’s campaign; it is a potential banana skin as, despite their illustrious past, France’s reputation on the international scene is in tatters after some abysmal displays at the last two competitions. They are rejuvenated under Blanc though and with a wealth of talent at his array, the French side could prove troublesome (especially given the result of our opening game of Euro 2004 against them – thank god Zizou has retired). We saw that Sweden lacked a cutting edge against a youthful England outfit in a friendly recently, but the competitive atmosphere of a group match could see things change. As for Ukraine; they will be backed fervently by the home fans in each game and the hostile atmosphere will test the mettle of some of the England players. Their squad is one of the weakest on paper at the tournament and, despite the precocious talents of Andriy Yarmolenko, their squad is an aging one, so England will fancy their chances against them.
An intriguing draw, throwing up 4 highly competitive leagues, I would contend, making predictions difficult. Should provide some terrific entertainment come next summer, that’s for sure.