Hodgson’s England will avoid the European heavyweights

England's coach Roy Hodgson
England's coach Roy Hodgson
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ROY HODGSON will take a break from his World Cup preparations when he travels to Nice to see who his England team are pitted against in their European Championship qualifying group.

Ever since England qualified for the World Cup in October, their manager has been a busy man.

Hodgson and coaches Ray Lewington and Gary Neville have travelled across the country watching England’s squad contenders.

The England manager has also made two flying visits to Brazil – the first in December for the draw and the second one this week when he visited Manaus, where England kick off their World Cup finals campaign against Italy, and attended a coaches’ workshop in Florianopolis.

But the 66-year-old’s attention will shift momentarily tomorrow when he travels to the host nation of the revamped 2016 European Championship.

For the first time in the competition’s history, the tournament will comprise 24 countries, rather than 16.

That, in theory, means England should have a better chance of qualifying in a more straightforward manner than their World Cup campaign, which went down to the wire.

The good news for England is that they have been seeded for the draw, so there is no chance of them being pitted against fellow European heavyweights like Germany, Holland, Italy or holders Spain.

Pot two contains potentially tricky opponents in Belgium, Sweden and Croatia, who denied England a place at Euro 2008.

But, the increase in the size of the competition means that England do not even have to top their group to qualify. Each of the runners-up in the nine groups automatically qualify for the finals, as does the best-placed nation who finishes third. The other eight nations that finish third will go into a play-off, while France make up the 24 as host nation.

Another change in the rules means Didier Deschamps’s France do take part in qualifying (although their matches will be regarded as friendlies) even though they are hosts, but they will be drawn into a group of five.

UEFA rules state England can only be drawn in a group of six due to television reasons, so there is no chance of Hodgson’s side being drawn with Les Bleus.

A worst case scenario for England would be being drawn against Belgium, Turkey, Montenegro, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

A dream group would be Hungary, Israel, Estonia, Cyprus and Gibraltar – who are taking part in qualification for the first time. A group containing England, Scotland/Wales, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Northern Ireland is a possibility due to the pot allocations.

The Republic of Ireland stand a decent chance of making it to their second successive European Championship from pot two.