Group stage draw sets the stage for Euro 2016

Paris, Dec. 8, (GNA/dpa) – Former champions Netherlands, Greece and Denmark failed to qualify, and UEFA boss Michel Platini will not be present owing to a suspension when the qualified Euro 2016 teams are drawn into six groups on Saturday.

Security will be tight around the Palais des Congres as the draw marks the first big football-related event in Paris since the November 13 terror attacks which also targeted the Stade de France where France were playing Germany at the time.

The three loud detonations heard inside the stadium brought terrorism right to Euro 2016’s door but tournament organizing chief Jacques Lambert was quick to insist that “we will take the necessary steps so that Euro 2016 takes place with the best possible security measures.

“If we now put Euro 2016 in doubt we will be bowing to the rules of the terrorists,” Lambert said.

Platini, who captained the then hosts France in 1984, cannot be present at the ceremony owing to a FIFA suspension in connection with a “disloyal payment” he received from FIFA boss Joseph Blatter.

France 2016 marks the biggest Euro tournament as the number of participating teams has been expanded by eight from 16 to 24.

The hosts have been placed atop Group A while the remaining 23 teams are drawn from four pots – based on the UEFA coefficient from qualifying for Euro 2012 and 2016, and qualifying for the 2014 World Cup – into six groups.

Two-time defending champions Spain are also in pot 1 along with world champions Germany, world ranking leaders Belgium, England and Portugal.

While neither the 1988 winners Netherlands nor the 1992 champions Denmark and 2004 winners Greece made it to the finals, the tournament will see the debut of Albania, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Slovakia and Wales. Austria and Ukraine qualified for the first time – after being automatically entered as co-hosts in 2008 and 2012.

Italy, Russia, Switzerland, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Turkey and Ireland are the other qualified teams for the 51-match tournament from June 10 to July 10 in nine French cities – Paris, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Lille, Lens, Lyon, Marseille, Nice and St Etienne.

UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino will conduct the draw after a pre-show starting at 1700 GMT and including French star DJ David Guetta, a French CanCan performance and other highlights of the host country.

The Henri Delaunay Trophy will be presented by a member of the successful 2012 team from Spain.

Depending on the outcome of the draw, some of the biggest stars could be pitted into one group, such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden with the Wales side of Gareth Bale and Wayne Rooney’s England.

The Germans will hope for a kind draw as they seek to add the Euro title to the World Cup crown from 2014 in what is a rare feat. West Germany (Euro 1972, 1974 World Cup), France (1998 World Cup and Euro 2000) and Spain (Euro 2008 and 2012, 2010 World Cup) are the others who have held both titles at the same time.

Like Spain, the Germans are seeking a record fourth continental title.

“I am very curious who our opponents will be. In the past the group stage at a Euro was more difficult than at a World Cup. That is no longer the case with the Euro expansion,” said German team manager Oliver Bierhoff.

Bierhoff, who scored Germany’s Golden Goal winner in the 1996 final against the Czech Republic, will be one of four ex-stars with an active role in the draw itself, with French Euro 2000 final winner David Trezeguet and Greek Euro 2004 hero Angelos Charisteas also already named.

“I am even allowed to participate in the draw because I am part of the Euro history. I am looking forward to it very much,” Bierhoff said.