Sports

NICE DRAW FOR 
ENGLAND

England manager Roy Hodgson will meet his former team Switzerland in Group E of the 2016 European Championship qualfying campaign.

Hodgson enjoyed great success with the Swiss, leading them to the knockout stages of the 1994 World Cup.

He would have enjoyed this draw in Nice, France, yesterday almost as much.

The English were treated to a group without serious rivals and bereft of banana skins.

Even they can't mess this one up.

Slovenia represent the only possible problem.

England had to work hard to beat them in the group stages of the 2010 World Cup and they performed reasonably well in qualifying for next year's tournament, finishing third behind Iceland and Switzerland.

But, given that teams of the quality of Turkey, Poland and Serbia were in the third pot, it's fair to say that Hodgson can be very pleased with himself.

Estonia, Lithuania and San Marino, the other nations in Group E, will present no significant difficulties.

Unless something extraordinary happens, this group will offer few surprises.

The same could not be said elsewhere.

Scotland, resurgent under Gordon Strachan's management, found themselves drawn into a hellish pool with Germany, Poland and the Republic of Ireland.

CONSOLATION

Some consolation came in the form of Gibraltar, surely destined to join the likes of San Marino and Lichtenstein as continental whipping boys, but they will struggle to qualify.

Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane, newly installed at Ireland, will also have hoped for an easier campaign.

Group A looks just as challenging.

First seeds Holland will face the always-dangerous Czech Republic, under-performing Turkey and the up-and-coming Icelandic side who so nearly qualified for this summer's World Cup.

The Dutch will be under new management after the summer, with Louis van Gaal keen to try his hand in the Premier League. The new man will need to find his feet quickly.

Hosts France will be non-competitive opponents for the teams in 
Group I, playing out friendlies as if they were trying to qualify.

They certainly have strong opposition to test themselves against.

Portugal and Denmark were drawn together once again and Serbia will fancy their chances of stopping one of them in their tracks.

Wales coach Chris Coleman saw his team dropped in with World Cup qualifiers Bosnia and highly-rated Belgium, but should have a fighting chance against Israel and Cyprus in the battle to finish third.

If nothing else, the points they pick up against the weaker teams in the group will aid their rankings for future tournaments.

Holders Spain will meet the co-hosts of Euro 2012 Ukraine in Group C and will expect to qualify easily.

Group F is wide open with Greece and Hungary, arguably the two weakest first and second seeds, drawn together with Romania, Finland and Northern Ireland.

Russia and Sweden should progress from Group G, Italy and Croatia from Group H.

England have problems qualifying for the European Championship in the past, notably in 2008 when they fell short.

They are unlikely to fall short again. This was as good as it gets for Hodgson.

Hodgson backs evergreen Gerrard

England manager Roy Hodgson sees no reason why Steven Gerrard should end his international career after this year's World Cup.

Hodgson was in Nice, France, yesterday when he learnt of England's opponents for the European Championship qualifiers.

England will take on Switzerland - the team he led to the 1994 World Cup Finals - Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and San Marino in Group E.

Whether it will be Gerrard, who will be 36 in 2016, to lead England through that campaign remains to be seen.

The England captain has said he will wait until after this summer's World Cup before deciding whether to end an international career that has earned him 108 caps.

Should the midfielder continue to make himself available for England, then it looks as though Hodgson would definitely consider including the player in his squad.

"I don't know if he necessarily couldn't (play beyond the World Cup)," Hodgson said.

"He will be 34 in May, so he will be getting on for 36, so I think a lot will depend on him and how he feels, and depend on how he is playing.

"At the moment, there has been no slowing down in his play.

"Who knows what the future will bring? I don't have a strong feeling about that one way or another. Time will tell."

During an international career that spanned 14 years, Gerrard has taken part in six major tournaments.

His legs are not as fresh as they were when he made his debut against Ukraine under Kevin Keegan and the 33-year-old now requires a series of injections to relieve back pain.

But he has also adapted his game to help him cope with the fact that his body is ageing.

Gerrard does not make as many marauding late runs into the box as he used to.

The Liverpool captain has withdrawn into a much deeper midfield role, which may help him extend his career for club and country.

DEEPER ROLE

"He has played that (deeper) role for Liverpool and for us as well in one or two games and it went well," said Hodgson, who used to manage the midfielder at Liverpool.

"These days, teams have a degree of fluidity so, even though (Liverpool) may start him deeper with (Philippe) Coutinho and (Jordan) Henderson further forward, in reality, Steven still gets forward and Henderson drops in.

"So I think a player like Steven, who is such an all-round player, will give you good attacking work and good defending work.

"Whether that spares him running or not, I don't know.

"Sometimes you think he is not doing as much there, but you might be surprised." - PA Sport.

on TNP 
TWeets

>Tomas Sivok, Czech defender:

It seems to me that we were drawn 
against the most unpleasant opponent from each of the other pots.

>Robin van Persie, Holland striker:

Netherlands, Czech Republic, Turkey, Latvia, Iceland and Kazakhstan #EURO2016 wow

>Aaron Ramsey, Wales midfielder:

Looking forward to the qualifying games now we have our group.

Some great games to come, got 
a good chance...

>Shay Given, Ireland goalkeeper:

Tough draw for Euro 2016 but some 
great games to look forward to.