France to appear in Euro 2016 draw
France will become the first host nation to feature in the European Championship draw next month -- though they will still automatically qualify for the 2016 finals.
UEFA has confirmed that its 54 member nations -- including Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory in their first qualifying campaign -- will be drawn into eight groups of six teams and one group of five.
In an unprecedented change to the draw procedure, France will be placed into the group which has five nations and then play those teams home and away in friendlies over the course of the qualifying programme -- though the results will have no bearing on the outcome of that group.
For television rights reasons, England, Germany, Italy, Spain and Netherlands must be in a six-team group -- meaning none of those nations will play France.
With the European Championship expanded to 24 teams for 2016, many nations who ordinarily would see qualification as a pipe dream will have hopes of forcing their way into the finals.
The top two and the best third-placed nation in each group will qualify directly for Euro 2016, with the other teams finishing in third entering the playoffs. For the World Cup finals, second place in a group earned only a playoff place. The best runner-up will be decided by removing the results of the last-placed team in the groups with six nations to ensure a level playing field for the group with five nations.
UEFA has also revamped the match programme, with a new 'Week of Football' ending the usual Friday-Tuesday double-header of qualifying games. Instead, ties will be played from Thursday to Tuesday with set kick-off times of 17.00 GMT and 19.45 GMT on Saturdays and Sundays and 19.45 GMT for week days. When nations have two games they will be scheduled to play on either Thursday/Sunday, Friday/Monday or Saturday/Tuesday.
UEFA will confirm the draw pots on Friday, ahead of the qualifying draw which will be held in Nice on Sunday, Feb. 23, using its own co-efficient ranking -- which is a different system to FIFA's World Rankings. It means Greece will be in pot one but Belgium and Switzerland, both seeded for the World Cup draw last month, will only be in pot two.
Spain cannot draw Gibraltar for political reasons, due to which they opposed the full membership of UEFA. The same applies to Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Confirmed draw pots:
Pot 1: Spain (holders), Germany, Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, Greece, Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Pot 2: Ukraine, Croatia, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hungary, Republic of Ireland
Pot 3: Serbia, Turkey, Slovenia, Israel, Norway, Slovakia, Romania, Austria, Poland
Pot 4: Montenegro, Armenia, Scotland, Finland, Latvia, Wales, Bulgaria, Estonia, Belarus
Pot 5: Iceland, Northern Ireland, Albania, Lithuania, Moldova, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Cyprus
Pot 6: Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Faroe Islands, Malta, Andorra, San Marino, Gibraltar
Qualifying match dates
Sept. 7-9, 2014
Oct. 9-11, 2014
Oct. 12-14, 2014
Nov. 14-16, 2014
March 27-29, 2015
June 12-14, 2015
Sept. 3-5, 2015
Sept. 6-8, 2015
Oct. 8-10, 2015
Oct. 11-13, 2015