Germany, Holland meet again in Euro qualifiers
Euro 2020 qualifying draw unveiled, with England, who will host semis and final, set to gain the most
Germany and Holland will renew their rivalry when the qualifiers for the 2020 European Championship get underway next year.
The two powerhouses, who were in the same pool in Nations League A, were drawn together again yesterday, when the continental showpiece's qualifying groups were unveiled in Dublin, one of 12 host cities for the Finals that will be staged across Europe for the first time.
Germany, the team everyone wanted to avoid after their poor showing in Uefa's new Nations League competition pushed them into the second pot of seeds, will also play Northern Ireland, Estonia and Belarus in Group C when the qualifiers begin in March.
The Dutch failed to qualify for the last two major tournaments and coach Ronald Koeman said he was not happy about meeting Germany, although his side were unbeaten against Die Mannschaft in the Nations League - drawing 2-2 last month and winning 3-0 in October.
"I wasn't happy because they are the strongest team in the second pot, but Germany are also not happy with Holland, I think," said Koeman.
"I think the rest of the draw is acceptable but, with the Germans, it will be a good fight.
"We know it will be tough to beat them. The development of the team is really positive and we look forward."
Germany coach Joachim Loew has no doubt that they will clinch one of the two qualification spots from the group.
"Of course, we would have wished for a different set-up for the draw, but we face the situation and accept it," said Loew.
"I'm looking forward to next year. We have a team with good prospects and we'll qualify for the European Championship."
Holders Portugal must face Ukraine and Serbia in a tricky five-team Group B which also includes Lithuania and Luxembourg, while world champions France drew Iceland and Turkey in Group H.
Elsewhere, three-time champions Spain were drawn in Group F with Sweden, Norway and Romania.
England, one of the other in-form teams from the Nations League, face the Czech Republic and Bulgaria in Group A.
The top two teams from each group qualify automatically.
Unlike previous tournaments, the play-offs to decide the four other spots will be contested among the most successful teams from the four divisions of the Nations League who have not already qualified.
"I would say it's a group with three candidates for two places, and Portugal are one of them," said Portugal coach Fernando Santos.
"We escaped playing Germany... or Germany escaped playing us. You could say the group is less difficult because Germany are not there but that would not be true. Ukraine and Serbia are tough."
Italy coach Roberto Mancini is hoping to restore his team's credibility after they failed to qualify for the World Cup.
The Azzurri are in Group J, along with teams including Bosnia, Finland and Greece.
"A good draw, the aim was to avoid Germany," he said. "We need to improve and get back to being among the top teams."
The new format offers a potential back door for any top side that struggles in qualifying, while also handing the leading minnows from the lowest Nations League division - Kosovo, Georgia, Belarus and Macedonia - a crack at the last qualification place.
To mark the competition's 60-year history, the Finals will take place in 12 cities - Amsterdam, Baku, Bilbao, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Glasgow, London, Munich, Rome and St Petersburg.
No team will qualify automatically as hosts, although every host country that qualifies will be guaranteed two home games in the group phase.
England stand to gain most from home advantage with both semi-finals and the final, as well as three group games and a last-16 tie set to be played at Wembley.
Gareth Southgate's side reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in Russia and then beat Spain and Croatia to reach the inaugural Finals of the Nations League next summer.
He is aware of the extra inspiration of playing in a major tournament at home, as he was part of the England side that reached the semi-finals at Euro '96.
"What the players are going to experience is close to what we experienced in 1996 and in '66. That's incredible for everybody," said the England boss. - REUTERS, AFP