SCOTLAND being confirmed as a pot four team for the 2016 European Championship qualifying draw yesterday means they could face some intriguing, not to say daunting, challenges.
When the nine groups are shaped – eight featuring six teams and one with five-teams – at the draw in Nice on 23 February Gordon Strachan’s men, if dealt a rough hand could require to edge out Spain, Belgium or Turkey. A kinder selection, though, could see them pitted against Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary and Slovakia – these pot two and three teams, respectively, below Scotland in the Fifa rankings – for the leading positions.
The top two finishers from each section will qualify automatically for the finals, as will the best third-placed team. The remaining eight third-placed teams will meet in play-offs to decide which countries claim the remaining four places. France, as hosts, qualify automatically but they will be “added” to the five-team group and play these countries in friendlies on the free matchdays created by the smaller section. The 2016 European Championship qualifying campaign will differ from previous editions in being the first to be played under Uefa’s ‘week of football’ concept.
A means by which television revenues can be maximised, essentially, a team will play their double-headers on Thursday and Sunday, Friday and Monday or Saturday and Tuesday. Between eight and ten matches will be played on six consecutive days. The weekend games will be played mainly in 5pm and 7.45pm slots – British time – with the 7.45pm utilised for the midweek games.
An international fixture on a Sunday night at Hampden might be less than appealing to the SFA or the Tartan Army. However, if one of these is churned out by the computer making next month’s draw for a campaign that doesn’t begin until September, it would mark a first.
Uefa president Michel Platini took delight in progress on a geopolitical basis that was revealed by certain details of the 53-team draw. Russia and Georgia have been kept apart in qualifying tournaments for European Championships and World Cup since a brief war between the two countries in 2008. However, the pair have informed Uefa that there are now no issues with them appearing in the same qualifying group.
Not all is cordial between the 53 competing teams. Spain have informed Uefa that they will not play in the same group as Gibraltar, the British overseas territory that will taking its place for the first time in a major international tournament while a territorial conflict means Azerbaijan and Armenia will not be asked to face one another in the qualifying stages.
Pot 1: Spain (holders), Germany, Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, Greece, Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Pot 2: Ukraine, Croatia, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hungary, Republic of Ireland
Pot 3: Serbia, Turkey, Slovenia, Israel, Norway, Slovakia, Romania, Austria, Poland.
Pot 4: Montenegro, Armenia, SCOTLAND, Finland, Latvia, Wales, Bulgaria, Estonia, Belarus
Pot 5: Iceland, Northern Ireland, Albania, Lithuania, Moldova, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Cyprus
Pot 6: Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Faroe Islands, Malta, Andorra, San Marino, Gibraltar