France draws Italy in group of death

With the exception of the co-hosts, who are alarmingly weak and may struggle to retain a vestige of pride, the teams will be engaged in fierce competition because of the sheer quality of the players, writes Kevin McCarra.

The European Championship is a brief tournament and next summer’s event will be furious as well as fast. The draw on December 2 introduced the anger early by pitting the World Cup holders, Italy, against the losing finalists, France, and giving them Holland for company. The remaining side in Group C, Romania, must feel fatalistic.

“I have to say the way the seedings are worked out is madness,” said the France coach, Raymond Domenech. “Not to have Italy, as the world champions, in the first pot is crazy. I would also have preferred to have played in Austria and not Switzerland, because we would have been hassled less. I am not happy, nothing I wanted has worked out.

“In fact, I don’t think we’re the happiest four coaches here after the draw and the way it worked out. We would love to have avoided the three other teams, but now we’ve got it we’ll have to deal with it.”

Group C is especially intriguing but Group B could be gruelling in another respect. It has overtones of tragic history far beyond the little world of sport. Austria, Croatia, Germany and Poland meet one another there. With the exception of the co-hosts, who are alarmingly weak and may struggle to retain a vestige of pride, the teams will be engaged in fierce competition because of the sheer quality of the players. Croatia are one of the sides who denied England a place.

The other, Guus Hiddink’s Russia, are in the easier half of the draw. They will envisage a route to the quarterfinals as runners-up behind Spain.

Nonetheless, tenacious Sweden and the reigning champion Greece will also have their eyes on a similar path. Euro 2008 looks enticing in its entirety, renewing England’s regret over missing out on such an occasion.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007