Paris gears up for Euro 2016 draw amidst Platini controversy

  • Paris, AFP
  • Updated: Dec 10, 2015 13:13 IST
The Henri Delaunay Trophy, which is awarded to the winner of the European Championship (Reuters Photo)

In the week where the whole world is waiting for the verdict on Uefa President Michel Platini’s political career, the draw for the finals of the expanded 24-team European Championship will be held in Paris on Saturday.

The former France star, who was the hero for his country as a player when they last hosted the Europeans in 1984, was widely criticised in his role as the Uefa president for changing the format of a tournament that had been so compelling with 16 teams, particularly in 2012, when Spain was crowned the champion in Poland and Ukraine.

But the decision to expand led to a much more engaging qualifying competition and has added intrigue ahead of the draw for the finals itself where nations like Wales, Northern Ireland, Iceland and Albania will join the continent’s traditional giants.

Whether Platini will be in attendance at the ceremony in Paris hinges on him winning his appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against a 90-day ban from all footballing activities while an investigation goes on into a payment he received from FIFA in 2011.

UEFA president Michel Platini is surrounded by journalists as he leaves the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) after an hearing for an appeal against a 90-day suspension on December 8, 2015 in Lausanne. (AFP)

In case of a conviction, Platini will not be able to compete in the FIFA presidential election but he is also in danger of having to look on from a distance as the European Championship is played out in his home country.

“We have been preparing for this tournament for five and a half years with Michel Platini as the UEFA president. Because this Euro is taking place in France, he has made a special effort to help with the preparation,” said Jacques Lambert, the head of the tournament organising committee.

“He has been very close to all the decisions that have structured the preparation and it is heartbreaking to imagine the Euro taking place without him.”

While Uefa are in a flux, with general secretary Gianni Infantino also standing for the FIFA presidency, the finals draw comes at a delicate time for France.

People gather at a makeshift memorial in tribute to the victims of a series of deadly attacks in Paris, in front of the Bataclan cafe on Voltaire Boulevard in Paris on November 23, 2015. (AFP Photo)

This is a country that remains in a state of emergency after the Paris terror attacks of November 13 that left 130 dead, and so security will be extremely tight around the draw itself as the coaches of the 24 nations arrive to discover their fate.

France boss Didier Deschamps may have been waiting for this moment but he is also distracted by the blackmail affair in which his leading striker Karim Benzema is caught up in relation to a sex-tape featuring his international colleague Mathieu Valbuena.

Currently banned from encountering Valbuena, Real Madrid star Benzema has stated his hope that he can return to the squad in time for the finals despite being charged by police in the case.

Les Bleus will be among the top pot of seeds, which also contains a Spain side gunning for an unprecedented third straight European Championship title, world champions Germany, England, Portugal and Belgium.

England’s status as one of the top seeds may have surprised some given their struggles at recent tournaments and the fact that Italy, runners-up at Euro 2012, lurk dangerously in pot two.

“I believe in the players and, given the opportunities, we can become a good team but we are young, we are inexperienced -- nothing is going to change that,” England manager Roy Hodgson admitted last month.

“If they do fail it might just be because of inexperience or a lack of quality.”

A good draw will help, although there will be some margin for error given that the four best third-placed sides from the six groups will go through to the last 16.

There is a good chance that England will face one of Wales, Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland, who are all in the last pot along with Turkey, Iceland and Albania, the latter two appearing at their first major finals.

The big name missing, of course, will be the Netherlands, semi-finalists at the last World Cup who contrived to finish fourth in their qualifying group.

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