European champions Spain were handed an easy path to the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine in Sunday’s qualifying draw, although coach Vicente Del Bosque said afterwards he was taking nothing for granted.
Spain, who won Euro 2008 with a series of superb performances, are ranked number one in the world and were grouped with Czech Republic, Scotland, Lithuania and Liechtenstein.
They were the last of the 51 teams drawn at the ceremony at Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Science and Del Bosque was cautious about the challenge ahead.
“We face a strong test and will have to be at our best in every match so we do not want to make any mistakes; we are taking nothing for granted,” he said.
World champions Italy face two World Cup finalists in Serbia and Slovenia, as well as Northern Ireland, Estonia and Faroe Islands in Group C, while France, the 2006 World Cup runners-up, should be too strong for Romania, Bosnia, Belarus, Albania and Luxembourg in Group D.
“Italy’s group is balanced, with Serbia and Slovenia — two teams who will play in the World Cup,” Italy coach Marcello Lippi, who was not present at the draw, said.
“There’s an advantage in being in a group of six. Of the other groups, England’s is the most difficult.”
Germany, runners-up to Spain in Euro 2008, face neighbours Austria as well as Turkey in what should be a straightforward group.
Group A also includes Belgium, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan were the first team drawn, and were then grouped with Armenia — the exact scenario UEFA had wanted to avoid.
Political tensions between the two ex-Soviet states meant that UEFA’s executive committee had ruled they would not be allowed to be in the same group.
Under a pre-arranged agreement, Armenia were moved into Group B where they will face Russia, Slovakia, Ireland, Macedonia and Andorra. The two countries had refused to play each other in the qualifiers for Euro 2008 after being drawn together.
The qualifying competition starts in September and concludes with final-place playoffs in Nov 2011. The nine group winners and best runners-up automatically qualify for the finals, along with the co-hosts. The remaining eight runners-up face each other in the playoffs with the four winners completing the 16-team line-up in the finals.