The draw for the qualifying section of Euro 2012 was made this morning and it threw up a few tough groups that the likes of England, Holland, Germany, and France should negotiate but will find the going difficult.
Fifty-one countries entered the draw, with duel host nations, Poland and Ukraine, waiting for them in the finals.
The groups will be contested across the usual league system on a home-and-away basis, with all matches scheduled between September 2010 and October 2011.
The nine winners and the runner-up with the best record against the top fie teams in their group will join the two hosts in the finals. The eight remaining runners-up go into play-off matches in November 2011 to decide the final four sides to join co-hosts Poland and Ukraine, making it 16 teams who will battle for Spain's title.
It's worth noting that Euro 2012 will be the last European Championships with 16 teams, as form Euro 2016 the tournament will be expanded to 24 teams after the Scottish and Irish Football Associations raised the issue of expansion in a recent meeting. As it stands, France, Italy, and Turkey are competing to host the tournament.
But back to the present. The draw was made in Warsaw and the road to Euro 2012 can finally begin. To see a UEFA simulation of the draw click here .
Group A has Germany as favourites and top seeds. But they will pretty much have to face six derby's after being drawn with local rivals Austria and Belgium , as well as having to face Turkey , who have massive representation in Germany. Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan will make up the group, but in reality neither have a chance of qualification.
The German's should top the group even though their matches against their three rivals will be tight affairs as the Kazakh's and Azerbaijani's are likely to take points off the unprepared. Belgium could cause a few shocks, especially as they have a brilliant youth system about to blossom.
Group B is one of the most wide open. Russia are top seeds but will have to face Slovakia , as well as a trip to Lansdowne Road when they play Ireland . There is not much between these teams and while the Russians will be favourites, the Slovak's and Irish will fancy their chances of either sneaking the group of taking the best runner up spot that would also guarantee qualification.
Macedonia , Armenia , and Andorra will make up the rest of the group, with the Macedonian's in particular likely to cause some upsets.
Best runners-up: Ireland
Group C will be carved up between Italy and Serbia . No one else in this section has a chance of topping the group and it is very likely that it could come down to goal difference, even at this early stage of predictions.
Northern Ireland , Slovenia , and Estonia will all hope that each other takes points off one of the big two while they capitalise on the situation. The truth of the matter is that they are all evenly matched are are more likely to damage each others seeding for the next World Cup draw.
The group is finished off by Brian Kerr's Faroe Islands . They're guaranteed to finish bottom but should take vital points off the less experienced teams.
Group D will be tough to call, especially if Raymond Domenech holds onto his job past South Africa. It's most likely that he will be replaced by Laurent Blanc by the time the Euro's start so expect a new look French team to take the battle to their rivals.
Even with their recent lack lustre displays, France are easily the strongest team in this weak looking group.
Romania will have a lot to do to finish second never mind win the group. Bosnia-Herzegovina are improving and will look to take advantage of Romania's demise over the past couple of years.
Belarus , Albania , and Luxumbourg will make up the group and none of the leading teams will fancy needing to take points in these hard to go places, with the exception of Luxumbourg.
Second: Bosnia Herzegovina
Group E is possibly the toughest the call. Holland are joined by Sweden , Finland , and the improving Hungary . Moldova and San Marino make up the make-weights of this nasty looking group.
Holland are very dependent on Robin van Persie and will be hoping that the Arsenal star will be fully recovered from his injury problems come September never mind next June. If fit, the Dutch are easy favourites. Without him, they could be exposed by the Swedish.
Sweden are really Holland's only rivals, but they themselves could be overtaken by Hungary in particular if they are off form.
Group F is probably the weakest group on show. Croatia are no great shakes and are the type of team who can all too easily be put off their game. For that reason almost every team in this hardest to call group has a chance.
Greece are always tough to beat, but don't score enough. Israel score their fair share, but drop silly points. While Latvia and Georgia will both be looking to finish second.
Poor old Malta finish out the group, but on their day they can be difficult to beat, especially in the heat of Valetta.
Group G is the first of three five team groups, and as such will be at a major disadvantage in chasing that coveted best runner up spot.
England are easy favourites, but will have to work to qualify. Switzerland and Bulgaria are the immediate threats but should not trouble England in the slightest. The hard working Swiss will perhaps show the biggest threat over the Dimitar Berbatov led Bulgarian's.
Actually, England's most difficult matches should be against John Toshack's young Wales .
Fixture negotiation will be key in ascertaining the Welsh threat in this group, but Wales could finish second and improve their seeding.
Montenegro are the worst possible fifth seeds England could have drawn. More than capable of putting it up to the group favourites, they will fancy their chances of causing a major upset and finishing second.
Group H is the group of death before the group of death. Denmark , Portugal, Norway, and Cyprus will be joined by Iceland in a group where every team is capable of taking points off each other.
Portugal will probably start as favourites but that will not frighten any of their rivals. Denmark won't fear them, neither will Norway or Cyprus who improve with every qualifying campaign.
The fact that the group is made of five teams means that there is almost no room for error. For that reason I expect the well drilled Dane's to progress.
Group I sees current champions Spain face the Czech Republic , Scotland , Lithuania , and Lichtenstein .
Qualification as best runner up is practically impossible in this of all groups as it's likely to be so tight, as all the five team groups seem to be.
Spain will qualify easily so that leaves a straight up battle for second. Scotland are about as poor as they have ever been. The Czech Republic are getting worse every year and Lithuania are no great shakes.
At home all three will be formidable but they will drop points away. It's all a matter of who will hold their nerve when it's needed most.