England's Euro 2012 Qualifying Draw: Analysis and Evaluation

Matt SAnalyst IFebruary 8, 2010

WARSAW, POLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Andriy Shevchenko of Ukraine draws Sweden into Group E during the Euro2012 Qualifying Draw at the Palace of Culture and Science on February 7, 2010 in Warsaw, Poland.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Michael Steele/Getty Images

Sunday’s draw at the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw saw England drawn against old rivals Wales in Group G for the Euro 2012 Qualifying draw.

The Three Lions’ other rivals in the five-team group are Switzerland, Bulgaria, and Montenegro, with only the group winners being guaranteed a place at the final tournament to be co-hosted in Poland and the Ukraine in two years' time.

The draw granted Fabio Capello his wish to be drawn in a group of only five teams but the Italian spoke afterwards of how England had been handed one of the tougher groups overall.

First of all, it is important to stress the advantages of being drawn into one of the five-team groups.

England will now face only eight qualifying fixtures in total and will not be forced to play home-and-away ties against the likes of San Marino, Azerbaijan, or Andorra, who the Three Lions had faced in their previous two qualifying groups.

With fewer games to schedule England could in theory now be without the end of season games which dragged the season well into June last year when they faced late qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Andorra, which wasn’t an ideal situation in anyone’s book.

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Capello has been firm on his belief that England are at their best earlier in the season, before the long English season has taken its toll, and with two possible dates for the qualifiers in both September and October, England could, in theory, have played half of their qualifying campaign before the end of October.

The flip side is that the five-team group is that it will leave more gaps in the international calendar to be filled with friendly fixtures, which are more often than not unfairly stigmatised by the English media.

Yet, in terms of the opposition the draw worked out as something of a mixed blessing for England.

Whilst they avoided some of the dark horses in lower pots such as Serbia (Pot 2) and Slovenia (Pot 4), statistically speaking, England were handed the second most difficult draw of them all.

Considering the FIFA World Ranking of the five teams (and ignoring the teams from Pot 6 in all other groups for fairness) England’s group has an average world rank of 41, only bettered by Group C, headed up by Italy and Serbia, which comes in at an average of 40.

England’s is also one of only two groups in which the top three teams all currently rank in the world’s top 30: England (9), Switzerland (18), and Bulgaria (30) in Group G is only matched by Group F in this respect with Croatia (11), Greece (12), and Israel (27).

Switzerland were the second-highest ranked side in Pot 2 and deservedly topped their World Cup Qualifying group although it must be said that it contained none of the teams ranked in Pot 1 for this draw.

The Swiss finished a point ahead of Greece to book their place in South Africa and the Euro 2004 Champions were also placed in Pot 2 this time around.

They were also the opposition for Capello’s first game in charge, in which England triumphed 2-1 in a friendly at Wembley, and England should be respectful but not unduly wary of their main rivals in the group.

Serbia were viewed as the real threat from Pot 2 who England were fortunate to avoid, and the Three Lions were probably glad not to be paired with Sweden.

Although the Scandinavians were the lowest FIFA-ranked side in Pot 2, they are unbeaten against England since 1968, an 11-game run (the most England have been without a win against any side in their entire history) which has seen them become the Three Lion’s bogey side.

Like Switzerland, Bulgaria were also the second-highest ranked team in Pot 3, but they underperformed in their recent World Cup Qualifying group.

Perhaps they represent an easier test than England might have faced had they been drawn against either the Republic of Ireland or Bosnia-Herzegovina, who both lost out in the play-offs for a World Cup place.

England have never lost in eight previous meetings against the Bulgarians, although they did toil to home-and-away draws against them in qualifying for Euro 2000 under Kevin Keegan most recently.

Slovenia were the ones to avoid in Pot, as the only European team heading to South Africa outside of the Pots 1 or 2, but England knew they would be in for an equally tough ride when they were pulled out against local rivals Wales from Pot 4.

England have dominated historically against the Welsh, winning 64 out of 99 games, with Wales clocking up only 14 victories.

However, Fabio Capello will be slightly apprehensive of facing John Toshack’s young Welsh side; in what will, especially in Cardiff, be a derby game in which England only have everything to lose.

The sides last met in Qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, in which Sven-Goran Erikkson’s England emerged victorious on both occasions with a 2-0 win at Old Trafford and a 1-0 win at the Millennium Stadium.

Montenegro were the highest-ranked of all the teams in Pot 5 and ranked at 72 by FIFA are even four spots ahead of Wales in the current rankings.

Montenegro have only been active as an independent state since 2007, beating Hungary 2-1 in their first match, having previously competed as Serbia-Montenegro and as part of Yugoslavia prior to that.

This will be their first attempt at qualifying for the European Championships having failed in their first qualifying attempt for the 2010 World Cup, although they did only lose three of their ten matches in the process.

These qualifying games will represent England’s first-ever games with Montenegro in international football.

Geographically, the group is at the easier end of the market with the trip to Bulgaria being the farthest afield that England will have to travel.

However, compared to the six-hour flight undertaken to Almaty to take on Kazakhstan for World Cup Qualifying last year it shouldn’t prove too taxing, and the trip to Cardiff is the shortest they could have possibly drawn.

Overall, England are clear and definite favourites to top the group, as they should be as first seeds.

Trips to Switzerland and Bulgaria can be tricky but England under Capello would not expect to lose either, let alone both games, which they would have to do to be put in danger of missing out on their second successive European Championships.

Fixtures against Wales will add local spice to the group and England can expect a raucous reception when they play in Cardiff and Montenegro are something of an unknown quantity having only played their first game in 2007.

Yet, despite Capello’s protestations in public about it being a difficult draw for England, it would be a real shock if they were not to qualify, even via the play-offs, from this group.

Of course, the same was said four years ago when England were drawn against Croatia and Russia, yet missed out on Euro 2008, but both of those sides now find themselves as top seeds in Pot 1.

In all probability, the same cannot be said of Switzerland and Bulgaria.

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