All eyes on Paris ahead of Euro draw

AFP , Thursday 10 Dec 2015

Euro 2016
Eight nations are vying for the final four places in the expanded 24-team Euro 2016. (AFP)

In the same week that Michel Platini fights to save his career, the draw for the finals of the expanded 24-team European Championship that he championed takes place in Paris on Saturday.

The former France star, who propelled his country to glory as a player when they last hosted the Europeans in 1984, was widely criticised in his role as the Uefa president for changing the format of a tournament that had been so compelling with 16 teams, in particular in 2012 when Spain triumphed in Poland and Ukraine.

But the decision to expand led to a much more engaging qualifying competition and has added intrigue ahead of the draw for the finals itself where nations like Wales, Northern Ireland, Iceland and Albania will join the continent's traditional giants.

Whether Platini will be in attendance at the ceremony in Paris hinges on him winning his appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against a 90-day ban from all footballing activities while an investigation goes on into a payment he received from Fifa in 2011.

Platini risks being unable to stand in the Fifa presidential election but he is also in danger of having to look on from a distance as the European Championship is played out in his home country.

"We have been preparing for this tournament for five and a half years with Michel Platini as the Uefa president. Because this Euro is taking place in France, he has made a special effort to help with the preparation," said Jacques Lambert, the head of the tournament organising committee.

"He has been very close to all the decisions that have structured the preparation and it is heartbreaking to imagine the Euro taking place without him."


While Uefa are in a flux, with general secretary Gianni Infantino also standing for the Fifa presidency, the finals draw comes at a delicate time for France.

This is a country that remains in a state of emergency after the Paris terror attacks of November 13 that left 130 dead, and so security will be extremely tight around the draw itself as the coaches of the 24 nations arrive to discover their fate.

France boss Didier Deschamps may have been waiting for this moment but he is also distracted by the blackmail affair in which his leading striker Karim Benzema is caught up in relation to a sex-tape featuring his international colleague Mathieu Valbuena.

Currently banned from encountering Valbuena, Real Madrid star Benzema has stated his hope that he can return to the squad in time for the finals despite being charged by police in the case.

Les Bleus will be among the top pot of seeds, which also contains a Spain side gunning for an unprecedented third straight European Championship title, world champions Germany, England, Portugal and Belgium.

England's status as one of the top seeds may have surprised some given their struggles at recent tournaments and the fact that Italy, runners-up at Euro 2012, lurk dangerously in pot two.

"I believe in the players and, given the opportunities, we can become a good team but we are young, we are inexperienced -- nothing is going to change that," England manager Roy Hodgson admitted last month.

"If they do fail it might just be because of inexperience or a lack of quality."

A good draw will help, although there will be some margin for error given that the four best third-placed sides from the six groups will go through to the last 16.

There is a good chance that England will face one of Wales, Northern Ireland or the Republic, who are all in the last pot along with Turkey, Iceland and Albania, the latter two appearing at a first major finals.

The big name missing, of course, will be the Netherlands, semi-finalists at the last World Cup who contrived to finish fourth in their qualifying group.

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