England avoid tough qualifying group for Euro 2020


England appear to have been granted a comfortable-looking passage to Euro 2020.

Gareth Southgate’s men, who reached the World Cup semi-finals in the summer, will take on the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Kosovo next year to reach the finals, which will be staged in cities across the continent.

Northern Ireland were handed an extremely tough-looking draw and will face Holland and Germany, as well as Estonia and Belarus in Group C

The Republic of Ireland had initially been drawn into Group C, but could not take a place there due to there being too many host countries in one group, so Mick McCarthy’s team were instead placed in Group D alongside Switzerland, Denmark, Georgia and Gibraltar.

Wales will face World Cup finalists Croatia in Group E, which also contains Slovakia, Hungary and Azerbaijan. Scotland are up against Belgium, Russia, Cyprus, Kazakhstan and San Marino in Group I.

England have never played the Czechs in a competitive match since the break-up of Czechoslovakia, with one win and one draw from two previous friendly encounters.

Similarly, they have not faced Kosovo before. Kosovo only gained FIFA membership in 2016.

England beat Bulgaria home and away en route to qualification for Euro 2012 and also faced them in qualifying for the 2000 and 1980 finals.

Montenegro were qualification opponents for England for Euro 2012, and also for the 2014 World Cup finals. England have only beaten them once, drawing the other three encounters.

England v Croatia - UEFA Nations League A

Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland have it all to do against the Dutch and the Germans, and do not even have a play-off place guaranteed after a poor performance in the Nations League.

Northern Ireland lost to Germany home and away in qualification for the 2018 World Cup and were beaten by Joachim Low’s side at Euro 2016.

The rejuvenated Dutch – who finished top of a Nations League group containing Germany and France – last faced Northern Ireland in June 2012 in a match which finished 6-0 in favour of the Oranje.

Scotland were beaten 4-0 by group opponents Belgium in a September friendly, but at least know they have a play-off place to fall back on if they cannot secure one of the two top spots in the group.

Scotland v Israel - UEFA Nations League C

Russia look the other strongest team that Alex McLeish’s men will face.

The Republic of Ireland are up against Denmark yet again. They faced the Danes in the Nations League earlier this year and lost to them in a World Cup play-off in the autumn of 2017.

Switzerland also underlined their strength by coming back from 2-0 down to beat Belgium 5-2 in a Nations League match last month.

Reigning European champions Portugal have been drawn against Ukraine, Serbia, Lithuania and Luxembourg while world champions France face Iceland, Turkey, Albania, Moldova and Andorra.

The qualifiers will be played in the 2019 international breaks, although England plus Portugal, Holland and Switzerland will be involved in the Nations League Finals next June.

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