Germany's head coach Joachim Loew (L) talks with his players during a training session
Spain could be grouped with its three European champion predecessors when the draw for Euro 2012 is made on Friday, reports The Associated Press.
Trying to become the first team to successfully defend a European title, UEFA’s seedings left Spain with the possibility of facing Greece, France and Germany in the group stage in Poland and Ukraine.
While the Spanish are favourites, Vicente Del Bosque’s side has lost four matches against the world’s top teams since following up its Euro 2008 title with its first World Cup trophy in 2010.
“We are in a more difficult position than in 2008—back then we were contenders,” said Del Bosque, who replaced Luis Aragones after Euro 2008. “Now we go as holders. We go there with an even bigger responsibility.
“There is a greater selection of top sides—the Netherlands, Germany, England, Italy, France. It’s a tall order against some quality opposition.”
Euro 2012 will be a true test of the continent’s footballing elite as the top 14 teams—when ranked by UEFA on competitive matches since 2006—all qualified. Ukraine is ranked 14th and Poland is at No. 28.
“It’s going to be a high-class, attractive tournament with all top teams from the UEFA rankings,” said Joachim Loew, coach of the highly rated German side.
“At this moment (the European Championship) is tougher than the World Cup,” according to England coach Fabio Capello. “The teams that finished first, second and third in the World Cup came from Europe.” Kiev’s Palace of Arts will be the venue where the 16 teams discover their group stage opponents in the June 8-July 1 tournament.
It is a draw some doubted would ever take place in Ukraine, which spent much of the last four years facing criticism over its lagging preparations for the tournament.
While some roads and a key airport are still to be completed, Ukraine was faster than Poland in completing its four host stadiums—in Kiev, Donetsk, Lviv and Kharkiv—before European football leaders arrived for the draw.
The co-hosts are joined by Spain and the Netherlands as the top-seeded teams, while Euro 2008 finalist Germany, Italy, England and Russia are in the second-seeded pot. In the third pot are Euro 2004 champion Greece, Croatia, Sweden and Portugal. “I’d like to avoid Spain,” Portugal winger Cristiano Ronaldo said. “I prefer to play the favourites later in the tournament.”
France is in the lowest-ranked pool for the second straight Euros— alongside Denmark, the Czech Republic and Ireland—due in part to its failure to win a match at its last two major tournaments. No wonder that when asked recently if France has a realistic chance of winning Euro 2012, coach Laurent Blanc responded: “No.”
The side, though, is on an 17-game unbeaten run after losing its first two matches under Blanc, who took over from Raymond Domenech following France’s dismal World Cup campaign. Referring to last month’s 1-0 victory over the United States and 0-0 draw with Belgium, Blanc said: “We’ve improved even if you couldn’t see it in these two matches.” “I can tell you that, abroad, they have more respect for the French national team,” Blanc added. “The Germans want to avoid us, which is rather a compliment. I can assure them that we want to avoid them too.”
Another European power with a point to prove in next year’s finals is England, which failed to qualify for Euro 2008 and endured a disappointing World Cup two years later. Redemption is on the agenda for Capello before leaving the England job in July. “For the World Cup we had the older players with the experience,” Capello said. “Now it’s something new—very interesting and new. Now we have got the young players.”
Two coaches could face their homelands in the group stage: Dutchman Dick Advocaat with Russia and Italian Giovanni Trapattoni with Ireland. Trapattoni managed Italy coach Cesare Prandelli while at Juventus and he could also come up against compatriot Capello.
“Psychologically, I would like to avoid Italy—also from a technical standpoint the Azzurri should always be avoided,” Trapattoni said according to the ANSA news agency. “I would prefer to measure up against Capello’s England. I’ve already got some counter moves ready. Anyway, the opponent to avoid at all costs is Spain.” Poland kicks off Euro 2012 in Warsaw and the final is being played in Kiev.
This will be the last time the tournament is played under its current format, before the flagship event for the 53-nation UEFA grows into a 24-team tournament in France in 2016.