England face prospect of Euro 2024 group of death as full seedings announced

England earned the right to be a top seed for the Euro 2024 draw | Football Digest

Gareth Southgate seemed to be going a little bit “potty” when he was cracking on about being top seeds all week. But as the Euro 2024 draw begins to take shape as the qualifying process draws to a close, it turns out he was right.

England were one result away from a potential grouping that would have killed our hopes of finally ending all those years of hurt stone dead. One defeat snatched from the jaws of victory and we could be heading into games against France, the Netherlands and Italy.

As it is, by scraping into the final place in Pot A ahead of a Hungary team that embarrassed us 18 months ago, it does not get much better.

It could still be Denmark, the Netherlands and Italy – three teams in the top 20 of FIFA’s World rankings battling for only two guaranteed places in the knockout stages. All of which puts the nation’s belief into doubt that this is the tournament to end all those years of hurt since 1966 without major silverware.

What is certain is that defending champions Italy’s poor qualifying campaign – which could have been ended altogether by a late penalty decision by Ukraine – makes them the one to avoid in Pot D. Similarly, the Netherlands slipping at the last minute into the third tier of seeds, places another banana skin in Pot 3.

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Then there is the peculiar English fear of a Battle of Britain. In each of the last European Championships, the Three Lions have faced one of their near neighbours.

In 2016, it was Wales. Five years later, in the delayed Euro 2021 finals, it was Scotland. This time it could be both of them with play-offs still to determine the last three qualifiers.

Scotland have already booked their place while Wales are one of twelve teams who are in the play-offs based on their performance in the 2022-23 Nations League – the draw for which is on Thursday. The encouraging thing for England has to be that nobody seems to want to put down an early marker to be tournament favourites.

Hosts Germany head to the finals in uncharacteristic disarray with an uncharacteristic 2-0 defeat against Austria coming after they had already replaced manager Hansi Flick with Julien Nagelsmann in September.

Then even as England slunk towards the airport after failing to beat North Macedonia in their final game they passed signs to Athens where 24 hours the mighty France were held to a 2-2 draw with Greece.

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It is why Southgate’s overall assessment of England’s path to Germany remained largely positive. “Well, we’ve won eight, drawn two – the last two games we’ve obviously experimented a little bit as well,” he said.

“Standing in front of the players this last week, it’s been hard to escape the fact that the job has been done. So that little additional edge that you want, perhaps wasn’t quite there at the weekend. And I’ve been involved in loads of games away from home with England like the one against North Macedonia.

“So I thought there were some good individual performances and I can’t fault how the players have been throughout the year, they’ve performed exceptionally well in a really tough group.”

But he and his players all know the real assessment starts here.

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