Euro 2016: hosts France to play in qualifying rounds

As the nation waits with baited breath to find out which sides we won’t be playing in Euro 2016 qualification – and wagering on how long it’ll take to sweat out the process of qualifying itself – it comes as some shock to see who else has their name in the pot.

Euro 2016: hosts France to play in qualifying rounds

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February 21st, 2014

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The draw for qualifying groups takes place on Sunday morning in Nice – presumably while a good deal of us will be feeling quite the opposite for that time of day – and sees England placed as one of the top seeds; meaning they’ll avoid the likes of Spain and the Netherlands in the qualifying stages.

In a new rule brought down from on high by UEFA, France will be drawn into a qualifying group despite already making it to the tournament by being Euro 2016 hosts. Euro 2016 regulation article 21.02 (which incidentally is today’s date!) declares that France will join the group which ends up containing five teams “for the purpose of playing”.

Obviously, none of the games involving France will count towards the final standings for qualifying for Euro 2016, but nonetheless it’s an interesting way to play.

“France will play in the group of five,” said UEFA head honcho Michel Platini. “That way they’ll have dates and opponents for their friendly matches, but the matches won’t count towards qualification, whatever the result.”

Not only that, but for the first time, the next European Championships will be played for by 24 teams at the finals rather than 16. This increase in competition would obviously make it more difficult for French officials to pick up a phone and arrange some friendlies during the qualification phase, but surely a few games against teams from other continents would keep it interesting instead?

More importantly, won’t the teams in that group – who would otherwise have had some precious rest time – resent the fact that they’ll be forced into a match against a team who are already thinking ahead to winning the tournament, instead of reaching it at all?

It’s a little selfish of Platini – a Euros winner himself back in ’84 by the way – to do his nation this favour and squeeze everyone else’s calendar in the process. By their very nature, these games are friendlies and in the first instance don’t need to be booked if one of the teams would rather focus on its domestic situation; even England have skipped the odd qualification period.

Another question we must ask is: just how seriously will France take these games? Not to say they’ll send out ten kids and their granddad in goal, but beyond a certain level of preparation the host nation is always strongly fancied provided it’s got its own ducks in a row…

Ah. Perhaps that’s the problem. Enjoy your friendlies, les Bleus!

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