LONDON, ONT. - England drew a huge breath of relief.
Aside from the group which was made up of Poland, Greece, Russia and the Czech Republic, the Three Lions were the big winners in Friday's Euro 2012 draw being held in the Ukraine and Poland.
In England's return to the European championship they avoided all the big guns. England will play in a group with the host Ukraine, Sweden and France. While there may have been a time when those three nations would have created a shiver of fear that time is past especially with France and the Ukraine, nations that are struggling to regain their international flare.
That doesn't preclude difficulty for the English. International play has become a walk through the a minefield. There is no surety of success with the next step. If there is an issue in this group for England it's the distance between their games. There will be considerable time spent in the air. England chose to be based in the Polish city of Krakow. They play twice in Donetsk and once in Kiev in the group, travelling over 4,000 miles in the process. The other three teams in their group are all based in the Ukraine.
But given what could have happened the English will gladly collect their air miles.
England would not switch places with any of the other eight teams. There is little argument about the Group of Death in this tournament. Group B has four of the top-11 rated teams in the world. It is made up of the World Cup finalist Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Portugal, Group C has the defending world champions Spain, Italy, Croatia and Ireland.
England lucked out on potential second-round matchups. A first-place finish in its group will likely see them matched up against Italy. Or given the current rebuilding of Italy's national team, it may be Ireland they face.
Either way, hardly insurmountable odds. That is unless the English perform as horribly as they did in South Africa in a group they were supposed win while half asleep. They played as if they were half-asleep and were doomed to a German onslaught in the quarterfinal round.
This will be the last European tournament that features 16 teams. When it heads to France in 2016 it will be expanded to 24 teams, making it easier to qualify while lessening the quality of early tournament games.
This June Group B alone will provide a handful of classic games. The Netherlands will play Germany, a rivalry that goes back to two World Cup finals. The Netherlands and Denmark dislike each other while Portugal and Germany engaged on one of the nastiest football matches played.
In Group C Spain and Italy is a showcase game. Italy against Ireland will see former Italian national team coach Giovanni Trapattoni given the Italians some of their own medicine.One of Trapattoni's most famous sayings is "if people want to see a show, they should go to La Scala." It may not be exciting but it's put the Irish into a major tournament.
Italy has been famous for absorbing opponent's pressure and breaking out to steal a win. It would be a wry smile to the lips of many if Italy were eliminated by use of their own tactics.
And if we must look to Group D France, England always provides fireworks regardless of quality of teams. France will face off against England on June 11 in the opener for both nations. These sides met at Euro 2004 and the ending of that game was one for the ages. England was assured of victory until Zinedine Zidane scored two goals in injury time to destroy the English.
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