Euro 2016 will appear a giant step closer on Saturday when the draw for the 15th European Championship will be made in Paris. It will be the largest edition of the competition yet, with 24 teams, up from the 16-strong field that has been in place since 1996, taking part. It is also scheduled to be the last European Championship with just a single host nation, as UEFA have announced that in 2020 matches will be split across several countries.
As hosts this time around, France were given an automatic berth at Euro 2016 and are one of the leading favorites to win the competition for the first time since 2000. Among the other 23 nations there are plenty of surprises, including four countries who have qualified for the European Championship for the first time. Albania, Iceland, Northern Ireland and Wales will have to do it the hard way, however, if they are to extend their debut appearance in the competition.
All will be placed in the fourth pot when the draw is made. The 24 teams have been divided into four pots based on UEFA national coefficients -- their performances over the last two and half major tournament cycles. From there, they will be drawn into six groups of four teams. France as hosts will be the seeded team in Group A, while Spain, as the holders, are also automatically given a place in Pot 1.
Joining them are the world champions Germany, an England side that recorded a perfect record in qualifying, the team sitting at No. 1 in the FIFA rankings, Belgium, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
There is quality, too, lurking in Pot 2. Chief among the teams to fear are Italy, who finished runners-up to Spain in Euro 2012. Austria, too, led by Bayern Munich’s superbly versatile David Alaba and having dropped just two points in 10 qualifying matches, will be a team many will want to avoid. In Pot 3, there is Sweden, who only made it through a playoff, but will be led by Zlatan Ibrahimovic in what is likely to be his last major international tournament. Pot 4 has several teams that will be out to impress, not least Iceland, who have qualified for their first ever international tournament after accounting for the Netherlands.
The top two teams from each of the six groups will progress to the knockout phase, with the rest of the Round of 16 made up by the four best third-placed teams.
Republic of Ireland
Draw date: Saturday, Dec. 12
Time: Noon EST