FOOTBALL NEWS FROM Euro 2012
France face Spain, England lucky
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England have been handed a favourable 2014 World Cup qualifying group that includes the likes of Montenegro and Ukraine.

Fabio Capello's successor will be confident of leading England to the tournament in Brazil in just under three years, as Poland, Moldova and San Marino rounded out the 1966 champions' Group H as the draw was made in Brazil on Saturday.

But the big story came with France, only in the second group of nations due to their poor recent form resulting in a drop in the FIFA World Rankings. France, World Cup winners in 1998, have been paired with current champions Spain in Group I - which means the best one of those nations can hope for is a play-off. France needed a controversial play-off win over Ireland to qualify for the 2010 finals. Belarus, Georgia and Finland will fear for any hope of finishing in the top two.

France coach Laurent Blanc told the French FA's website: "At least we won't receive the tag of favourites with the world champions and European champions in our group. It's extremely exciting to compete with the best. It's through such matches that we can improve.

''It'd be a lie to say that we're in an easy group. But we will focus on our task and France will take its chances as usual.

''Spain will definitely be our toughest opponent in the group. But I have confidence in our team and the goal will be to advance in first place.''

England have faced a number of their opponents recently - with Montenegro in their current Euro 2012 group and Ukraine one of the sides they overcame on the way to last summer's World Cup.

Capello said it will not be an easy task for his successor. He said: "It is not an easy draw. You have to be really, really focused and play every game like a final - but that will be another manager's job. I'm focused on my job now to qualify for the Euros.

"We know Montenegro very well and we have to play against them again. Poland are improving and will be really focused and will be tough opponents. With Ukraine I remember the game we lost against them in the last match during the qualification for South Africa. Moldova are not so strong and San Marino the same.''

"I am confident as we have some really interesting young players and the future will be them. Some young players will play more at Manchester United, some like [Kieran] Gibbs will play more games at Arsenal, [Jack] Wilshere is the future, and [Jordan} Henderson and [Andy] Carroll at Liverpool.''

The winners of the nine European groups qualify automatically, while the eight best runners-up play off for the four places remaining.

It is 45 years ago since England won their one and only World Cup - and 91 years today since Uruguay triumphed in the very first World Cup final - and although it should be a straightforward task it will not be a walkover.

"England WC qualifying group is similar to most qualifying campaigns, some tricky away games but have to be looking to qualify top," defender Rio Ferdinand said on Twitter.

Elsewhere, Wales and Scotland have been paired together in Group A, in what looks like being a difficult campaign alongside Serbia, Croatia, Belgium and Macedonia.

Scotland manager Craig Levein admitted he would rather have avoided Wales. He told Sky Sports News: "I would have rather avoided Wales because obviously it brings in that home international rivalry which we probably could have done without.

"We have recent good experience of playing Wales when we won against them over in Dublin recently, but also not so long ago we lost 3-0 to Wales, so it's a bit of a mixed bag.

"But I look at that group Wales were in and I don't think there's any doubt there are other teams in there I would rather have played.''

As for the fierce Balkan rivals from pots one and two, Levein accepted he had plenty of homework ahead.

"I look at the group and there's a touch of the unknowns in there,'' he said. "It would be fairly straightforward for me to answer questions if pot one had been Spain or Holland or Germany or England, but I don't know much about Croatia. And in pot two I know a fair bit about some of the other teams not so much about Serbia.

"I know a bit about Belgium - they're improving, in particular with regard to the younger age groups - and Macedonia we have recent experience of. There is no coincidence that Croatia are in pot one and Serbia pot two.

"A lot of people don't maybe know an awful lot about them but it's not a lottery - they have had to earn their places. They've obviously had very good results in competitions recently. We have to give everybody their due respect.

"Some of the dangers are that when people don't see a Spain or a Holland or an England come out in pot one they think 'oh, that's an easy team to play against' without knowing the strengths of the opposition.

"That's something I have to get up to speed with very quickly.''

Belgium coach Georges Leekens warned Scotland and Wales to beware his up-and-coming side.

"Everyone can beat everyone, there are no weak teams but no really strong teams like Spain and Germany,'' Leekens said. "British football can be tough and I don't think Wales are a Pot Six team. But we are coming up for a small country. Watch us, we will be there.''

Wales manager Gary Speed insisted Group A was "wide open''. He said: "We have a chance of qualifying from this group. We will have to be good and have to be at the top of our game and we have to improve from where we are now but if we do all that then we have got a chance.

"There are six strong teams in there but it's also a group where any team can beat any team on their day. From that point of view this group is wide open. Croatia and Serbia are traditionally very tough, Belgium have turned the corner and the Scotland matches will be great for the fans.

"I'm happy to have got another home nation side - it adds to the interest and we know their strengths have played against them in May in the Carling Nations Cup.''

The Republic of Ireland will have to overcome Germany, Sweden, Austria, the Faroe Islands and Kazakhstan to book their place at the tournament, while Northern Ireland will face double-headers against Portugal, Russia, Israel, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg.

Germany 'team manager' Oliver Bierhoff acknowledged the threat of the Republic of Ireland: "It'll be an interesting experience for our players. They are a team that play very intensively and can make like very hard for you - but I prefer to play in this kind of atmosphere rather than against smaller teams.

"Trapattoni (Republic manager, Giovanni) of course will know the German players - but Sweden and Ireland are both beatable.''

Italy will expect their stiffest challenges to come from Denmark and Czech Republic.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter opened the draw by reiterating that the game's governing body had confidence that Brazil would overcome early complications to be ready for the tournament on time.

"We need the support of the government of Brazil, the state governments, the organising committee and the 190 million fans of football that is the population of Brazil," Blatter said. ''It is a matter of trust and confidence and FIFA have trust in Brazil and are confident of its abilities.

''Football is the beating heart of Brazil. It is a multi-cultural country of joy and celebration blessed with natural beauty and a booming economy ranking number seven in the world.''

Qualifying for 2014 follows exactly the same format as 2010. There will be eight groups of six teams and one group of five.

Each group winner qualifies automatically, with the eight best runners-up facing a play-off to qualify. The record of the team finishing in sixth place in groups 1-8 will be discounted to determine the best runners-up.

The qualifiers begin in September 2012 and run through to October 2013.

GROUP A
Croatia
Serbia
Belgium
Scotland
Macedonia
Wales

GROUP B
Italy
Denmark
Czech Republic
Bulgaria
Armenia
Malta

GROUP C
Germany
Sweden
Ireland
Austria
Faroe Islands
Kazakhstan

GROUP D
Netherlands
Turkey
Hungary
Romania
Estonia
Andorra

GROUP E
Norway
Slovenia
Switzerland
Albania
Cyprus
Iceland

GROUP F
Portugal
Russia
Israel
Northern Ireland
Azerbaijan
Luxembourg

GROUP G
Greece
Slovakia
Bosnia-Herzegovina
Lithuania
Latvia
Liechtenstein

GROUP H
England
Montenegro
Ukraine
Poland
Moldova
San Marino

GROUP I
Spain
France
Belarus
Georgia
Finland
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