• Euro 2016

France to appear in Euro 2016 draw

ESPN staff
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The European Championship heads to France in 2016 © Getty Images
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France will become the first host nation to feature in the European Championship draw next month - though they will still automatically qualify for the 2016 finals.

UEFA have confirmed that their 54 member nations - including Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory in their first qualifying campaign - will be drawn into eight groups of six teams and one group of five.

In an unprecedented change to the draw procedure, France will be placed into the group which has five nations and then play those teams home and away in friendlies over the course of the qualifying programme - though the results will have no bearing on the outcome of that group.

With the European Championship expanded to 24 teams for 2016, many nations who ordinarily would see qualification as a pipe dream will have hopes of forcing their way into the finals.

The top two in each group and the best third-placed nation will qualify directly for Euro 2016, with the other teams finishing in third entering the play-offs. For the World Cup finals, second place in a group earned only a play-off place. The best runner-up will be decided by removing the results of the last-placed team in the groups with six nations to ensure a level playing field for the group with five nations.

UEFA has also revamped the match programme, with a new 'Week of Football' ending the usual Friday-Tuesday double-header of qualifying games. Instead, ties will be played from Thursday to Tuesday with set kick-off times of 17.00 GMT and 19.45 GMT on Saturdays and Sundays and 19.45 GMT for week days. When nations have two games they will be scheduled to play on either Thursday/Sunday, Friday/Monday or Saturday/Tuesday.

UEFA will confirm the draw pots on Friday, ahead of the qualifying draw which will be held in Nice on Sunday, February 23, using their own co-efficient ranking - which is a different system to FIFA's World Rankings. It means Greece will be in pot one but Belgium and Switzerland, both seeded for the World Cup draw last month, will only be in pot two.

Spain cannot draw Gibraltar for political reasons, due to which they opposed the full membership of UEFA. The same applies to Armenia and Azerbaijan due to their troubled political history, although Russia and Georgia have said that they are happy to play each other despite similar problems.

Confirmed draw pots:

Pot 1: Spain (holders), Germany, Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, Greece, Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Pot 2: Ukraine, Croatia, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hungary, Republic of Ireland
Pot 3: Serbia, Turkey, Slovenia, Israel, Norway, Slovakia, Romania, Austria, Poland
Pot 4: Montenegro, Armenia, Scotland, Finland, Latvia, Wales, Bulgaria, Estonia, Belarus
Pot 5: Iceland, Northern Ireland, Albania, Lithuania, Moldova, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Cyprus
Pot 6: Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Faroe Islands, Malta, Andorra, San Marino, Gibraltar

Qualifying match dates

September 7-9, 2014
October 9-11, 2014
October 12-14, 2014
November 14-16, 2014
March 27-29, 2015
June 12-14, 2015
September 3-5, 2015
September 6-8, 2015
October 8-10, 2015
October 11-13, 2015

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