Chitrabhanu Kadalayil | February 23, 2014
The start of the 15th staging of Europe’s leading international football competition begins Sunday with the draw for the qualifying stages of the tournament in Nice, France.
There are more qualifying positions at stake this time, with the tournament going up to 24 teams for the finals in France 2016. Since 1996, the number of finalists had stood at 16.
There will be nine groups drawn from 53 sides. Eight groups will have six teams, while the ninth group will be made up of five countries.
As hosts France’s spot at the tournament is already guaranteed, but to give them match practice, they will play friendly matches against the group of five sides as a way of maintaining competitive match practice.
Order of events
The draw will be from the top down, with the first group of holders, Spain, pictured, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, Greece, Russia and Bosnia and Herzegovina being pulled out first.
England, Spain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands will not be part of the five-team group as they are seen as the largest markets in terms of contribution to revenue. Meanwhile, Uefa has ruled Azerbaijan cannot face Armenia and Spain cannot play Gibraltar for political reasons.
The top two teams in each group will qualify for the finals along with the best third-placed side. The remaining eight third-placed teams will play off in November 2015 for the final four berths.