Euro 2012: England avoid giants as Republic land tough draw

Uefa Euro 2012 Championship finals groups
Czech RepublicPortugal
Republic of IrelandFrance
Tournament in Poland and Ukraine, 8 June - 1 July

England have been drawn against France, Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine in Group D at next summer's European Championship.

Republic of Ireland face a far tougher task in Group C with matches against world and European champions Spain, Italy and Croatia.

In Group A, co-hosts Poland play Greece in the opening game, and also face Russia and the Czech Republic.

Meanwhile in Group B, World Cup runners-up Netherlands take on Denmark, Germany and Portugal.

The Euro 2012 tournament will begin on 8 June in Warsaw (Poland), with the final being played on 1 July in Kiev (Ukraine).

England manager Fabio Capello said he was pleased to have avoided some of the bigger names in the tournament as England return to Europe's top table for the first time in eight years, having failed to qualify for Euro 2008 in Switzerland and Austria.

However, being picked in Group D means they play their opening three games in Ukraine.

Having selected Krakow in Poland as their training base, England will face journeys of 930 miles to Donetsk to play France and Ukraine, and 540 miles to Kiev where they take on Sweden.

When asked if he would consider changing the destination of their camp, Capello told BBC Sport: "Absolutely not. We have found a really good place. I am happy with the facilities and we will stay in the same place in Krakow."

The Italian, who confirmed this week that he would leave his post after the tournament, added: "Group B is very difficult because Portugal, Germany and Holland is really tough.

"The best group was Group A, but we are happy with Group D. It's a tough group but it's better than Group B.

"More difficult will be the first game against France, because of the pressure and the importance of the result."

England will open against France, who they have not beaten in five meetings, in Donetsk on 11 June. The fixture is a repeat of England's first game at Euro 2004, when they lost 2-1 in Lisbon.

Despite the recent record between the countries, France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris believes England will be the team to beat. "England are one of the biggest nations in football," said the Lyon player. "They'll start as favourites in the group."

England then play Sweden, who they recently beat for the first time since 1968, in Kiev on 15 June.

"I don't think you saw the real Sweden in the friendly game at Wembley last month, I hope not anyway," said their coach Erik Hamren. "I am looking forward to it because its always fantastic to play England, the atmosphere and history is fantastic."

England complete their group fixtures against Ukraine back in Donetsk on 19 June. Ukraine inflicted Capello's first defeat as England coach in a competitive fixture, 1-0 in October 2009, after England had already qualified for the 2010 World Cup.

Capello's preparations for the tournament will be helped by the announcement that England will face Netherlands on 29 February, in a re-arranged friendly game at Wembley.

All of the Republic of Ireland's group games will be in Poland, which pleased FAI chief executive John Delaney.

The Republic will start their campaign against Croatia in Poznan on 10 June, then face Spain in Gdansk on 14 June before playing Italy on 18 June back in Poznan.

"I'm delighted for the supporters," Delaney said. "We are not in the tournament to make up the numbers, we will give it a go."

The winners and runners-up from Group C and Group D will face each other in the quarter-finals.

Republic of Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni said before the draw he wished to avoid Spain and Italy, and the Italian admitted his side had been handed a tough group.

"Yes, I know Italy better [than the others] but every game is different," he said. "Spain is the strongest team, but Croatia are not easy.

Euro 2012 venues map
The eight host cities for the Euro 2012 Championship

"It's important our squad is completely without injury. We are happy to stay in Poland."

Croatia boss Slaven Bilic said the draw underlined how competitive the European Championship is.

"It is the cruellest sports championship," he said. "You can't get easy opponents. Of course we have a tough group. We are privileged we are playing against the world champions [Spain], former world champions [Italy] and Republic of Ireland.

"I am big time looking forward to it. We are not the favourites but we have a chance."

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