Favourable draw for England

England look to have a straightforward task to qualify for Euro 2016 while Scotland and the Republic of Ireland will face each other.

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Roy Hodgson's side have been handed an apparently undemanding group

Roy Hodgson's side have been handed an apparently undemanding group

England have been handed a straightforward qualifying campaign for Euro 2016 while Scotland and the Republic of Ireland will face each other for a place at the finals in France.

Roy Hodgson's side were drawn in Group E along with Switzerland - the team he led to the 1994 World Cup finals - Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and San Marino.

England have never played Lithuania before, but San Marino have been regular opponents - in 1993 they famously scored after just 8.3 seconds against England after an attempted back-pass by Stuart Pearce.

England went on to win 7-1 - and have scored at least five goals in the four games they have played. Estonia should also pose little problem, with England playing them twice in 2007 and winning 3-0 home and away. Switzerland will be England's biggest challenge, having secured a 2-2 draw at Wembley in qualifying for Euro 2012.

UEFA are now spreading games in international breaks from Thursday until Tuesday and Hodgson is worried England will be asked to play the first game of back-to-back fixtures with little preparation time.

Hodgson said: "The thing I'm most concerned about is Thursday."

He told Sky Sports News: "I feel that in our preparations we'll have to deal with top (club) matches on Super Sunday with your channel, which means we wouldn't really get the players to do any real work with them before the Tuesday, and if we were playing on the Thursday it would make our preparations very difficult.

"Thursday-Sunday concerns me because I don't think we'd be able to persuade the Premier League and Sky Sports to bring the best fixtures to the Saturday and it will mean basically we'll get no preparation."

The prospect of a dispute over fixtures is one Hodgson and the Football Association will no doubt be keen to avoid.

Overall, though, Hodgson, who led Switzerland to the 1994 World Cup and steered them to Euro 96 qualification but led before the finals to join Inter Milan, saw England's draw as positive.

"I'm very satisfied," he said.

"I must say the name of Switzerland always brings a smile to my face. They were four fantastic years.

"It's a team we know reasonably well so I was happy with that one."

Scotland and the Republic have tough campaigns ahead after being drawn together in Group D along with Germany, Poland and Georgia, as well as UEFA's newest member Gibraltar, who were drawn to Group C with Spain but were switched to D for political reasons.

Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill said: "They will be great occasions I hope. I'm sure he (Strachan) is looking forward to it. I'm sure he'll be as excited as I am myself. It's tough, I'm there's other groups we might have preferred to be in but we'll get on with it.

"Germany you would say are the outstanding side in the group but there's plenty to fight for."

Scotland chief Gordon Strachan added: "The commercial manager is happy. Every tie, there's something in it. You've got Gibraltar, new to the competition; Germany, one of the best teams in the world; the Republic of Ireland; Poland, who we play in a friendly - we've just decided to knock that one on the head and the backroom staff are just going to play their backroom staff.

"It is exciting. There's some groups you might call mundane but we're definitely in an exciting group. It's a terrific, terrific draw."

Wales have a shot at a play-off place or better in Group B, where they will face Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belgium, Israel, Cyprus and Andorra.

Wales boss Chris Coleman said: "Definitely there's a bit of excitement in there; anticipation. Everybody's wondering what's going to happen.

"Teams like ourselves - Wales, Scotland and Ireland and Northern Ireland - it gives us a little more chance of maybe qualifying and reaching a major tournament. The format that's been before is very difficult for us but with the extra teams, who knows? It's all up for grabs."

It is a similar story for Northern Ireland, who were drawn in Group F with Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland and the Faroe Islands in a competitive-looking group.

Manager Michael O'Neill said: "Greece will be a very tough game but it would probably be the country you may have chosen. We have teams in there, the likes of Hungary, Romania and Finland, that I believe we can compete with and take points from.

"We're happy with the draw. We need to maximise our points at home. We're well capable of doing that."

The top two in each group will qualify for the 24-team final tournament along with hosts France. The best third-placed team will also qualify, with the eight other third-placed sides playing off for the remaining four spots.

This will be the first European Championships with 24 teams and there has been criticism and suggestions that the expanded number of teams will dilute the quality of the tournament.

Hodgson however disagrees, saying the standard of football has improved across Europe.

He told uefa.com: "Going back to the 70s, when you had the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, there was nothing like 54 teams we have today. There was a much smaller pool.

"Now, the tournament's much bigger and qualifying becomes more difficult because the teams who used to be happy just to play the so-called bigger nations and play at San Siro or at the Bernabeu - they come to beat you."

England will kick off their campaign with perhaps their toughest fixture - away in Switzerland on Monday September 8.

The first qualifier at Wembley will be against San Marino on Thursday October 9, swiftly followed by an away tie against Estonia on Sunday October 12.

Scotland too have a tough start, away against Germany on Sunday September 7, and Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland also kick off their campaigns on the same day away against Hungary and Georgia respectively.

Wales are also away against Andorra, on September 9, while Gibraltar's first competitive match will be at home to Poland.

Full Draw:

Group A: Netherlands, Czech Republic, Turkey, Latvia, Iceland, Kazakhstan

Group B: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belgium, Israel, Wales, Cyprus, Andorrra

Group C: Spain, Ukraine, Slovakia, Belarus, FYR Macedonia, Luxembourg

Group D: Germany, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Scotland, Georgia, Gibraltar,

Group E: England, Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, San Marino, Lithuania

Group F: Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland, Northern Ireland, Faroe Islands,

Group G: Russia, Sweden, Austria, Montenegro, Moldova, Liechtenstein

Group H: Italy, Croatia, Norway, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Malta

Group I: (France) Portugal, Denmark, Serbia, Armenia, Albania

  • France qualify as hosts but will play friendlies against teams from Group I.


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