Old rivals to meet in marathon 2008 qualifying
MONTREUX, Switzerland, Jan 27 (Reuters) - France and Italy will face a repeat of the Euro 2000 final after the soccer powers were paired together at Friday's draw for the qualifying competition for Euro 2008.
France, who won that final with a golden goal from David Trezeguet in Rotterdam, will face a tough campaign, with World Cup finalists Ukraine also in Group B. Scotland, Lithuania, Georgia and the Faroe Islands complete the opposition.
'It's a beautiful group. We'll have some very nice games,' French president Jean-Pierre Escalettes told Reuters by phone.
Italy coach Marcello Lippi, away watching the African Nations Cup finals in Egypt, said it will be 'hard-fought' although said his thoughts were focussed on the World Cup.
The draw throws up the intriguing possibility of the likes of Ukraine's 2004 European Footballer of the Year Andriy Shevchenko and Frenchman Patrick Vieira up against their AC Milan and Juventus team mates respectively.
World Cup hosts Germany, three times the European champions, were drawn with the Czech Republic, who they overcame in the Euro 1996 final, in Group D.
Germany were placed in the second group of seeds because they had no World Cup qualifying points contributing to their coefficient for the draw and will also face Slovakia, Ireland, Wales, Cyprus and San Marino.
'Obviously, Germany and the Czech Republic are favourites, to go through from this group, there's no question about that,' Germany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn told reporters.
European champions Greece, surprising winners in Portugal in 2004, will lock horns with old rivals Turkey in Group C. The nations were also drawn together in the same qualifying group for this year's World Cup - both failing to advance.
'There is always a lot of emotion, but both matches (in the World Cup campaign) were 0-0 and both were fair and clean,' Greece coach Otto Rehhagel told reporters.
Greece and Turkey are joined by Norway, Bosnia, Hungary, Moldova and Malta in Group C.
England, who are among the favourites to do well in the World Cup in Germany in June, will face fellow World Cup finalists Croatia, who they beat 4-2 at Euro 2004, as well as Russia, Israel, Estonia, Macedonia and Andorra in Group E.
England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, who will have departed from his post before the qualifying starts, said whoever replaces him would 'be happy' with the draw.
Portugal, who are also through to the finals in Germany, face a gruelling eight-team group.
They play fellow World Cup finalists Poland and Serbia & Montenegro as well as Belgium, Finland and long-haul trips to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.
All the other groups comprise seven teams, but Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is not worried by the long qualifying competition.
'It is better playing 12 or 14 matches than going into the playoffs where we can have a bad match and then the preparation of two or three years can be totally lost,' the Brazilian told reporters.
The top two teams in each group qualify automatically for the finals along with the co-hosts Switzerland and Austria.
World Cup finalists Sweden face neighbouring Denmark, European champions in 1992, in Group F which also includes World Cup finalists Spain, as well as Latvia, Iceland, Northern Ireland and Liechtenstein.
Top seeds Netherlands, winners in 1988, face Romania, who they also played in the World Cup qualifiers, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Albania, Belarus and Luxembourg in Group G.
Dutch coach Marco van Batsen, scorer of a wonder goal in the final against the former Soviet Union in 1988, said: 'We know how hard this is going to be, we had two tough matches with Romania in the World Cup qualifiers and although we won 2-0 home and away, this is a different competition.'
Qualifying starts on Sept. 2 2006 and ends on Nov. 21 2007. The finals run from June 7-29, 2008.