Gareth Southgate said England will “take on whoever comes” after being handed a Euro 2020 draw that – potentially – sets up a daunting last-16 tie against either Germany, France or Portugal in Dublin.
England were handed a group which they should finish on top of – ahead of Croatia, despite losing to them in last year’s World Cup semi-final, the Czech Republic and possibly also Scotland, also hosts in Group D, should they navigate a play-off against Israel and then either Serbia or Norway. But there is a sting.
As with in Russia in 2018 England could benefit from not winning the group. If they do they face a last-16 tie against the runners-up of Group F which includes top seeds Germany, world champions France and European champions Portugal and, as the fourth team, possibly Iceland – remember them from Euro 2016? - Bulgaria or Hungary. It fits the bill as the customary ‘group of death’.
If, therefore, England finish second they will receive an apparently kinder draw against the runners-up of Group E which Spain will be expected to win but which also contains Sweden and Poland.
Southgate said he was not going to try and second-guess the permutations. "I'm never sure whether it's a good draw," he said. "If you can win and be top seeds then you have to take control of your destiny. Let's hope we have the decision to make. We will take on whoever that comes. Everyone will be thinking the same about playing us."
Croatia, who England will face in their first group game on Sunday June 14, are familiar opponents with Southgate’s side having beaten them to reach the final of the Uefa Nations League. England also topped their Euro 2020 qualification group ahead of the Czechs but lost against them recently in Prague.
"We have played two of the teams before and for us to play at Wembley is something special. We are looking forward to the tournament," Southgate said will all three of England’s group games at Wembley. "We know the quality of [Croatia's] midfielders. That's a top-level fixture…We like so many of our young players that are emerging. Our team for the last two qualifiers were extremely young so we need to make sure we get the balance right. Sometimes other coaches try to draw you in. I've been in the game long enough to know how it works. There are eight to 10 big countries. The margins are really, really fine."
If England get through their group that then it would be a quarter-final in Rome and, thereafter, Wembley for the semi-final and final. Wales, meanwhile, have been drawn with Italy, Turkey and Switzerland in Group A and will have hopes of progressing especially as the Italians are their final opponents and could already be qualified.
The tournament will kick off at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on June 12 with a tie between Italy and Turkey with the final at Wembley on July 12 and, for the first, and probably last time, it will be played in 12 cities across Europe to mark the 60th anniversary of Uefa’s first staging. Fans will be offered free public transport on match days but that will hardly mitigate against the cost of trying to follow their country across the continent.
Remarkably 36 nations were involved in the bizarrely complex draw: the 20 who have already qualified and 16 who are in the play-offs to take the final four places. Russia and Ukraine could not be drawn against each other, for political reasons, with the Uefa draw computer ensuring they remained apart.
Gareth Southgate's thoughts
On the draw:
People say 'good luck' before, but I'm never sure what a good draw is.
We've played at least two of the teams before, so that helps up. For us to be playing at Wembley is huge. We're really looking forward to the tournament.
On England's chances:
Croatia have real quality in midfield, it's a really top-level picture. There are eight to 10 top nations at the tournament. The margins are really, really fine.
On playing the runners up from the group of death:
You have to try and take care of your own destiny. We have to be confident in our own ability and take on whoever comes along.
Some England-Croatia memories
Might it be better to finish second in group D?
If England win Group D:
They will play the runners-up of Group F - the group of death which contains France, Germany and Portugal - in the second round.
So their potential path to the final would be: France, Spain, Holland, Germany.
If England finish second in Group D:
They will face the runners-up from Group H - which contains Spain, Sweden and Poland - in the second round.
Then, their potential path to the final would be: Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Spain.
That's it then
Here's the draw in full (with the play-off teams to be added):
More of Pot 4
Finland go into Group B with Denmark, Belgium and Russia. That's Belgium who have complained about the format for the tournament. In a group they will win with ease. Boo hoo.
Onto Pot 4.
Wales go into Group A with Turkey, Italy and Switzerland.
WE HAVE A GROUP OF DEATH PEOPLE
Portugal go into Group F along with France and Germany.
More of Pot 2
Denmark are next - we know already they are in Group 1.
Sweden go into Group E alongside Spain and Poland.
Czech Republic go into England's group
Euro 2020 qualifying opponents meet again at the Euros.
Pot 2 continued
Austria go into Group C.
Turkey. They go into group A with Italy and Switzerland.
We move onto Pot 3
Portugal, Turkey, Denmark (hosts), Austria, Sweden, Czech Republic to be drawn.
Everyone will be hoping to avoid Portugal.
The final two Pot 2 teams
Poland go into Group E alongside Spain.
That means France join Germany in Group F. That group is already looking tasty!
England are drawn against Croatia!
A World Cup semi-final re-run!
Pot 2 continued
Holland are next out, we already knew they would go into Group C.
Russia are drawn next, and we know they are in Group B.
Onto Pot 2
Switzerland are first out of the hat: they join Italy in Group A.
They are deciding which position in each group each team will go into
Ukraine - C2
Spain - E1
Belgium - B3
Germany - F4
England - D1
Italy - A2
Not really sure why that took so long, but there you have it. Pot 1 is done!
The draw is under way!
Bizarrely, we are going ahead and drawing the Pot 1 teams, even though we know their groups... Ukraine are first out, and they go into - you guessed it - Group C!
Live pics from the draw in Bucharest
Why are some teams already in groups?
The seven hosts that have qualified automatically go into the groups which will see games played in that country. Ukraine and Belgium, as Pot 1 teams, have to go into Groups B and C, but Russia's position in Group B as a host means Ukraine can't go in there due to political reasons. So that's that.
Ok, one more thing.
The play-offs will take place in March, with 16 teams fighting for the four remaining places at Euro 2020. These are the 16 teams that performed best in the Nations League while also failing to qualify for the finals via the qualifying campaign.
Path A: Iceland, Bulgaria, Hungary (host), Romania (host);
Path B: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovakia, Republic of Ireland (host), Northern Ireland;
Path C: Scotland (host), Norway, Serbia, Israel;
Path D: Georgia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Belarus.
The groups that they will go into is based on the hosts in each Path. If Hungary, Bulgaria or Iceland win Path A, they will go into Group F. If Romania win Path A, they will go into Group C.
Tonight's special guest, perhaps?
How does the draw work?
Right, I'm only going to explain this once, so listen up. Lots of people seem to be put off trying to understand how it all works because of the Nations League. Now that almost all the teams have qualified, it really is quite simple. Here's a simple-ish explanation of how the draw will work...
20 qualified teams and four future play-off winners to be drawn into six groups of four;
Teams split into four pots based on performance during the Nations League;
One team from each pot will go into each group;
Seven qualified hosts plus Belgium and Ukraine already assigned groups.
There you have it. Any questions? Nope*? Lovely stuff.
*I'm aware I have left a lot unexplained. You should get the gist, though... just.
Next summer's European Championship
It really does not seem like the wonderful World Cup summer of 2018 was all that long ago, but here we are, 18 months on, and attention is well and truly turning to another international tournament.
Next year, Euro 2020 will take place across Europe, with 12 major cities hosting major games at an extra special European Championship finals that ends in London. Wembley will host England's three group stage games as well as the two semis and the final.
England have booked their place at the tournament next summer along with fellow hosts Italy, Russia, Denmark, Holland, Spain and Germany. All of those teams have already been placed into groups so that they are guaranteed to play at least two games 'at home', as you can see above. (Belgium, Russia and Ukraine have also been assigned groups already too, for other reasons which we'll get onto).
The rest of the already-qualified teams will find out their fate today, while the four play-off winners will be assigned groups, even though the play-offs don't take place until March.