Bucharest hosts the draw for Euro 2020 on Saturday with the fates of World Cup holders France and reigning European champions Portugal providing the greatest interest just over six months before the start of what is a controversial tournament.
The coaches of all qualified nations will be in attendance for the draw ceremony beginning at 1700 GMT at the Romexpo exhibition centre in Romania’s capital, which will host four matches at the finals.
For the first, and surely only, time, this European Championship – the second to feature 24 teams – is being held in 12 cities in 12 different European nations from June 12 to July 12, with the semi-finals and final taking place at Wembley in London.
It was an idea championed by ex-Uefa president Michel Platini, before his four-year ban from the game, as a way of marking the 60th anniversary of the first European Championship in 1960.
However, the concept has come in for criticism, and part of that is down to the fact that much of the suspense has already been taken from the draw.
The need to ensure qualified host nations get to play at least two home matches means some teams already know which group they will be in.
For instance, four of the six top seeds are hosting games, with Ukraine and Belgium the only exceptions. However, the decision to keep Ukraine and Russia apart for diplomatic and security reasons has had an impact on the Belgians.
They therefore already know they will be in Group B along with two hosts, Denmark and Russia. The only suspense is whether Wales or Finland from Pot Four complete their group.
Belgium’s Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne made headlines recently when he called that “a scandal”. Similarly, the Netherlands – who will play group games in Amsterdam – know they will be in Group C with Ukraine.
“It was clear from the beginning and sometimes in life you have to weigh pros and cons, the advantages and disadvantages,” said Uefa deputy general secretary, Giorgio Marchetti, at a press conference on Saturday, defending the tournament format.
“Uefa thought the prevailing reason to do it was to try to have a special celebration of what is essentially a greater European, and now a global, event.
“We had to accept these limitations, and by the way no hosts were guaranteed to have a place at the Euros.”
The Netherlands could also end up playing Romania in Bucharest, should the Romanians come through the play-offs next March, a process which still involves 16 teams including Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland.
Indeed, the draw will take place without all 24 finalists being known, the last four spots going to the play-off winners.
Matches will be played from Dublin and Bilbao to Saint Petersburg and Baku. Italy will host the opening game in Rome, and they are one of the top seeds, as are England, Germany and Spain.
France lurk in Pot Two alongside a revived Netherlands, while 2016 winners Portugal sit in the third pot.
It is therefore possible that France will find themselves in the same group as Italy, Portugal and Wales. England, meanwhile, could also find themselves in the same group as France and Portugal.
However, Gareth Southgate’s side will be confident of making the knockout phase given they will play at Wembley.
Then again, if they were to qualify in second or third place in their group, it is possible they could end up having to go to Saint Petersburg or to Baku, by the Caspian Sea, for a quarter-final.
The concept has left European football’s governing body open to criticism about the tournament’s impact on climate change.
Uefa have estimated 405,000 tonnes of carbon emissions will be produced by travelling fans and staff and in response have promised to invest in “emission reduction projects”.
President Aleksander Ceferin has defended the format, pointing out that there has been no need to build new venues or transport links, but he admitted “it also has a cost, with increased travel for fans to watch their teams play”.
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