UEFA might have tried to jazz it up with a grand piano and a dozen great goalkeepers, but the Euro 2016 draw was never going to provide great drama.
With 24 teams heading to France for the next European Championship, it is self-evident that no team with the remotest chance of winning the tournament will fail to qualify.
The top two teams from each of the nine groups go through automatically (as does the best third-place team), and the rest of the third-placed teams get a play-off.
Qualifying should be a formality for England. That’s not the same as saying it will definitely happen, but if they don’t two things should happen immediately:
1-They need to sack their manager.
2-Every England fan should thank their lucky stars they won’t be humiliated on the big stage.
There is no chance of a Sweden – a team with obvious quality that could not reach the World Cup in Brazil. Every team that fails to qualify will have deserved to do so.
We are promised an unfulfilling 18-month slog, at the end of which England will either have done what everybody expected of them, or imploded spectacularly.
Still, expect the Three Lions to make heavy weather of it. It’s what they do.
Of greater interest are the draws handed out to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - countries whom qualification has eluded in recent decades.
The Scots have an interesting but tough-looking section in which Germany, Republic of Ireland and Poland will all be expected to finish above them.
For Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane, the games against the Poles will surely determine their fate – though they still receive the consolation prize of a play-off if they come third.
Wales looked to have a dream draw until the Belgians came out of Pot 2. Still, they will absolutely fancy a top-three finish with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belgium and Israel for competition.
Northern Ireland find themselves in a group with no stars but plenty of teams stronger than them – Greece, Hungary, Romania and Finland may not get the pulse racing, but they should be formidable enough to put qualification out of Michael O’Neill’s reach.
Still, at least the home nations avoided the farce that is Group I, where hosts France join Portugal, Denmark, Serbia, Armenia and Albania.
The French wanted to take place in qualifying, but not at the risk of missing an invitation to their own party.
So while Didier Deschamps will play a full ‘qualifying’ schedule, the games will not actually count for any points and their place in the finals is assured.
We’d love to sit in a locked room with UEFA’s ubiquitous General Secretary Gianni Infantino and work out the sense in that.
- Sports & Recreation