If you have sat through a complex, multilingual draw, anxious to know who your team will face, muttering: “Just pick the damn balls,” at every needless delay, then you should probably avoid tuning in to Sky Sports News at 11am on Sunday. While a global World Cup qualifying draw contains more teams, the one for Euro 2020, taking place in Dublin, will really take some beating when it comes to possible reasons not simply to place teams in groups according to the order they are pulled out of the hat.
In part, this is because of the staging of the finals across a dozen countries rather than one or two but also the side-effects of the Nations League. While Uefa’s biennial tournament has generally been deemed a success – and not just in England – it does complicate life for its elder sibling.
To start with the simple bit, there will be 10 groups into which the 55 teams will be drawn, with the top two sides in each group claiming places in the 24-team finals. The teams are arranged into pots based on how they ranked in the Nations League. But Euro 2020 will take place in 12 host cities from Dublin in the west to Baku in the east (Wembley has seven games, including the semi-finals and final). No host nation qualifies automatically but Uefa wants all 12 to be able to reach the tournament, so no more than two of them can be placed in one group.
Portugal, the Netherlands, Switzerland and England will be busy in June with the inaugural Nations League finals and so unable to play qualifiers. Consequently, they will each be placed in one of the five five-team groups.
Then there is the weather. In previous qualifying campaigns, those countries most affected by winter have generally been able to avoid scheduling home matches in March or November, but the Nations League occupied four warmer dates this autumn, compressing options. This means Uefa has had to draw up a list of 10 countries, no more than two of which can be in a group.
There is geographical remoteness, too, leading to Kazakhstan being able to play no more than one of 11 possible opponents and Iceland no more than one of five, while Azerbaijan cannot face both Iceland and Portugal.
Finally, it will be no surprise to know there is a list of teams who cannot face each other for political considerations, made shorter by some pairs being in the same pot, such as Russia and Ukraine.
If all this goes off with out a hitch, then Uefa will deserve a round of applause. The suits will be back on Monday for the much simpler task of the Nations League finals draw. Looming in the distance, though, are the Euro 2020 play-offs, which give a second chance to teams based on how they fared in each Nations League section, with the dozen group winners guaranteed at least a play-off semi-final in March 2020.
If we are still hailing the new formats in 16 months’ time, then Uefa should probably hand itself one of the awards with which it disrupts the Champions League draws.