Just as Manchester United became the latest victim of suddenly unbeatable AFC Bournemouth in the Premier League, UEFA were conducting the draw for next summer's Euro 2016 tournament set to take place in France. The hosts already knew they were in Group A, others had to wait through the ridiculously long and boring preamble before all the balls were swirled, picked, cracked open, and read out loud.
Many Chelsea players probably watched with great interest. Half of Spain's potential starting lineup could be made up of Chelsea boys Fàbregas, Costa, Pedro, and Azpilicueta, for example. Gary Cahill should be starting for England while fellow center back Kurt Zouma should at least make Didier Deschamps's final squad if not quite as a starter yet.
Thanks to the silly expansion to an unbalanced number of teams (24) and the statistically unfair format, there was also advantage to be gained by getting drawn into Groups A-D and avoiding Group F and especially Group E. Unfortunately for Belgium and Thibaut Courtois, not only did they get drawn into Group E, they will have to face mighty Italy and the mighty Zlatan (he belongs to some nation as well, but that's a minor detail). And also Ireland, but poor Jonny Walters & Co probably won't have high aspirations after seeing this draw.
"It is not the easiest draw, but we have to deal with it now. Italy are always a difficult opponent, Sweden with [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic will be difficult, and Ireland always have a strong collective team, and are always difficult to beat at such a tournament."
"We have to be right on top form from the start. Hopefully we do well against Italy who are the biggest competitor for group victory."
-Thibaut Courtois; source: FourFourTwo
The draw in full for the 51-match tournament lasting a whole month from June 10 to July 10 is as follows:
Group A: France, Romania, Albania, Switzerland
Group B: England, Russia, Wales, Slovakia
Group C: Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Northern Ireland
Group D: Spain, Czech Republic, Turkey, Croatia
Group E: Belgium, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Sweden
Group F: Portugal, Iceland, Austria, Hungary
So Group E certainly looks the toughest on paper, while the hosts get a pretty easy ride in Group A. England and Wales, Germany and Poland, Austria and Hungary make for potentially interesting match-ups of some historical significance. Spain's group (Group D) could be surprisingly tough; Petr Cech will have his work cut out for him in the Czech goal.
Personally, I'm looking forward to Hungary and Slovakia trying to make some waves and will be looking to get tickets to a match or two. The next ticket lottery window opens on Monday.