The tradition in major tournaments is that, by accident or design, the hosts are seen to have landed in a comparatively friendly group when the dust from the draw has settled.
Germany, hosts next June for UEFA Euro 2024, do not have that luxury. They will open the finals against energetic Scotland and then come up against Hungary and Switzerland. Normally Die Mannschaft might not be overly worried but this is a Germany who sacked their manager three months ago and are still struggling to regroup.
Hansi Flick had been fortunate to survive an embarrassing first round exit at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar a year ago so the DFB had no option but to change course after a 4-1 defeat by Japan in September. The out-of-work Julian Nagelsmann was rushed in and results so far have been unimpressive.
Tournament organisers need hosts to progress deep into the finals to maintain event momentum. German fans want a repeat of the party atmosphere which helped make the World Cup staging in 2006 so memorable. So the pressure is almost palpable.
Nagelsmann, putting a positive spin on the Group A draw, said: “It’s no group of death but a very strong group and we are looking forward to it. We have a very good opening match against Scotland with emotional crowds in a positive way both from the Germans and the Scottish fans.”
The other notable pick from the draw in Hamburg was the Group B match-up of three-times winners Spain with reigning champions Italy. Their competitive rivalry goes back all the way to the 1934 World Cup when hosts Italy narrowly defeated Spain in a quarter-final replay.
Italy will be on guard against a repeat of the 2012 final when Spain crushed them 4-0 in Kyiv. Azzurri coach Luciano Spalletti said: “It is surely the most difficult group. But we know what our goal is: to pass the group stage.”
Also in the group are Croatia, third at the World Cup last year. Coach Zlatko Dalic had no doubt about the challenge ahead. He said: “This is surely the most difficult group.”
AWKWARD GROUP C
England, newly-risen to third in the FIFA World Ranking, were the top seeds in an awkward Group C. Manager Gareth Southgate’s men, beaten finalists at Euro 2020, open against Serbia and then confront a Denmark side who pushed them to extra time in the Euro 2020 semi-finals. Slovenia make up the group.
Southgate said: “You know the objective is to get out of the group. When you look at a team like Serbia with a centre-forward like Mitrovic you can’t assume too much. We know the expectations, we are getting used to these big games. We hope to give our supporters some brilliant nights.”
FRANCE / NETHERLANDS REMATCH
Group D will see a rematch between France and Netherlands who finished first and second in the same qualifying group. French coach Didier Deschamps will be wary of complacency after his team’s 4-0 and 2-1 victories and will rely again on the brilliance of Kylian Mbappe to pursue a third title triumph after 1984 and 2000.
Netherlands manager Ronald Koeman said: “It’s difficult for everybody. I did not prefer France, maybe France did not prefer Holland because we play often and it’s nice to have other opponents. But anyway we need to accept it. Our objective is to win the tournament.”
The top two in each of the six Euro 2024 groups proceed to the round of 16 along with the four best third-placed finishers.
Germany and Scotland kick off the finals in Munich, on June 14 with the final in Berlin on July 14. Before then, the last weeks in March will see the playoffs to decide the last three finalists.
Group A: Germany, Scotland, Hungary, Switzerland
Group B: Spain, Croatia, Italy, Albania
Group C: Slovenia, Denmark, Serbia, England
Group D: Play-off winners A, Netherlands, Austria, France
Group E: Belgium, Slovakia, Romania, Play-off winners B
Group F: Turkey, Play-off winners C, Portugal, Czech Republic
Play-off A: Poland, Wales, Finland, Estonia
Play-off B: Israel, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine, Iceland
Play-off C: Georgia, Greece, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg
Credit: AIPS Media