by Dom Smith
England have drawn one of the toughest groups in the Euro 2024 qualifying draw.
53 UEFA member states were involved in the draw, held on Sunday morning in Frankfurt — with Germany the tournament’s host nation.
England were not seeded for the draw as Gareth Southgate’s side struggled for form in the 2022/23 UEFA Nations League campaign, drawing three and losing three of their six games, getting relegated to league B for the next edition.
European champions Italy, a now very familiar foe, are the seeded side who will face meet England in Group C. Italy prevailed against England via penalties in the Euros final at Wembley last summer, before England drew and lost to Roberto Mancini’s Italians in their disastrous Nations League campaign.Embed from Getty Images
Joining Italy and England as the third-ranked team in the group are Ukraine, who England thrashed 4–0 in Rome at the quarter-final stage of Euro 2020.
There will be a first meeting between England and North Macedonia since October 2006, with the former Yugoslav state joining them in Group C. England have not played North Macedonia since the nation changed its name from FYR Macedonia.
The lowest-ranked side in England’s group are Malta, who they faced in Southgate’s first qualification campaign as manager, ahead of the 2018 World Cup.
The top two sides in the group qualify automatically for the final, while the third-placed teams with the best records will reach the playoffs.
As England are in a group of five teams rather than six, there will be space in their 2023 calendar to organise two friendly matches with nations in Europe or other continents who also have free matchdays. This offers them further chance to test themselves against a decent calibre of opposition, alongside their evidently challenging group.Embed from Getty Images
Finalists largely on home soil in 2021, England last failed to qualify for a European Championships in 2008. Since then they’ve lost just two of 66 Euros and World Cup qualifying matches — going down to Ukraine (who meet them here) in 2009, and to Czechia in 2019.
England’s matches will be played between March 2023 and November 2023, and qualifying will dominate their 2023 schedule.
This is definitely a group from which England should qualify. As many more European sides qualify for the Euros than the World Cup, winning the group is not vital. They would be safe even if they finished in second spot. And if their campaign was particularly disastrous and England finished third, they might still get in through the backdoor route that is the playoff system.
One of the key questions is whether England are likely to still be managed by Southgate, who might well call it a day following next month’s World Cup in Qatar.
Italy, Ukraine and North Macedonia all qualified for Euro 2020 alongside England and provide a stern but passable test for the Three Lions. Meanwhile, Malta — though very beatable — are rarely embarrassed by the scoreline. England are likely to qualify, but they are very unlikely to rack up any cricket-score victories.
Southgate said about the draw: “Well, tough. But we knew because we’re in pot two that that could be the case. Teams we’ve played recently. We know both [Ukraine and Italy] have high quality and difficult games for us. But there’s a bit more jeopardy than perhaps in the past, and I think that’s good for the competition.”