There are 16 places at finals -14 qualifiers plus co-hosts Poland and Ukraine, who automatically qualify. Qualfying competition runs from Sept 3-4, 2010 to Oct 11, 2011. The nine group winners and the runner-up with the best record against the teams first, third, fourth and fifth in their group qualify directly for the finals.
The remaining eight runners-up will contest two-legged play-offs on Nov 11-12 and Nov 15, 2011 to complete the 16 finalists. Finals from June 8 to July 1, 2012.
Group A: Germany, Turkey, Austria, Belgium, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan.
A rerun of the thrilling Euro 2008 semi-final awaits. Germany overcame Turkey that time and will be favourites to progress again. The Turks are currently without a manager after a faltering World Cup qualification campaign, and will be pushed hard by Austria and Belgium, two youthful teams who are in the ascendant.
Group B: Russia, Slovakia, Republic of Ireland, FYR Macedonia, Armenia, Andorra
Luck has come to the Irish. Russia are the weakest seeds and will be an even more appetising prospect if Guus Hiddink moves on. World Cup qualifiers Slovakia are solid, but Ireland should back themselves. Armenia were moved into this group after refusing to play Azerbaijan in Group A.
Group C: Italy, Serbia, Northern Ireland, Slovenia, Estonia, Faroe Islands.
A nightmare draw for Nigel Worthington’s team, who will face three of the qualifiers for the World Cup. World champions Italy pose the biggest threat, while Serbia trumped France in their qualifying group. But Northern Ireland will take heart from the fact that they beat Slovenia 1-0 in April.
Group D: France, Romania, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Belarus, Albania, Luxembourg.
Romania are not the threat they were, finishing fifth in their World Cup qualifying group. But neither are France, who will surely have shed Raymond Domenech by September. Bosnia, who were unlucky to draw Portugal in their World Cup play-off, could be the surprise package.
Group E: Holland, Sweden, Finland, Hungary, Moldova, San Marino.
Holland will be favourites to progress, but Sweden will also be a force, as long as they can persuade Zlatan Ibrahimovic to end his international exile, Expect San Marino to be used as target practice again: in World Cup qualifying, their record read: played 10, lost 10, scored 1, conceded 47.
Group F: Croatia, Greece, Israel, Latvia, Georgia, Malta.
The weakest of the groups, with a whiff of faded glories about it. Croatia and Greece are a far cry from the sides who conquered England and Europe respectively, although the Greeks muddled their way through to South Africa. Instead Israel, led by Yossi Benayoun, could make waves.
Group G: England, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Wales, Montenegro.
England will have to contend with Alex Frei, Dimitar Berbatov and Craig Bellamy to reach Poland and Ukraine, but overall a good draw for Fabio Capello. Switzerland are tough but workmanlike, while Bulgaria are as mercurial as their best-known player. John Toshack, meanwhile, might not get a better chance to break Wales’s major tournament duck.
Group H: Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Cyprus, Iceland.
An inspired Denmark pipped Portugal to the top of their group last year. It’s been a decade since Norway qualified for a major tournament, but with the likes of Brede Hangeland and John Carew, they can still be dangerous. Iceland and Cyprus are genuine banana skins in a group without a genuine minnow.
Group I: Spain, Czech Republic, Scotland, Lithuania, Liechtenstein.
One of the worst possible draws for Craig Levein. Spain’s pedigree requires no introduction, while the Czechs are a wounded animal after failing to qualify for the World Cup. That said, Michal Bilek’s outfit are a team in transition, and if the Scots catch them on an off day, they could spring a surprise.