HERE we go again. Around 5pm today, attention will turn to the Palace of Arts in Kiev and the draw for next summer’s Euro 2012 finals.
Will it be the much-hyped ‘Group of Death’ for England and meetings with Spain, Portugal and France? Or will UEFA hand the Three Lions a group that, on paper at least, offers Fabio Capello and his players a reasonably smooth passage to the last eight?
Whatever the fate awaiting England this tea-time, once the draw is complete and a possible path to the final (stop laughing at the back) has been mapped out, it means the preparations can get under way in earnest.
For supporters, this means securing flights and hotels at a price that will not break the bank.
Plotting a path across Poland and Ukraine between group games will not be easy due to the distances involved, something I know from experience after catching a train from Kiev to Dnipropetrovsk to attend a match and only realising once on board that the journey time was a buttocks-numbing 11 hours in third class. So, attention to detail will be key for those wanting to spend the best part of two weeks behind the old Iron Curtain next summer.
For the Football Association, too, logistics will be uppermost in the mind once the draw is known.
First, England’s programme of warm-up friendlies can be finalised with a February 29 date with Holland at Wembley having been pencilled in providing the two countries are not drawn together in the Euro 2012 group stages.
A trip to Dublin is also in the offing once the domestic season ends, again subject to today’s draw.
In terms of the wider football public, however, the main concern will be the identity of England’s opponents and, just as importantly, their group. In an ideal world, that would be Group A – which due to the way the two host nations have been seeded by UEFA will contain Poland, who are ranked 66th in the world and, therefore, the weakest of the 16 teams taking part next summer.
Throw in the FA having already chosen to base Capello’s squad in the centre of Krakow and Group A becomes even more attractive as all six games will be played in Warsaw and Wroclaw, comfortably the closest host cities to Krakow at 157 and 147 miles away respectively.
In terms of geography, Group D is the one to avoid due to the two host cities of Kiev and Donetsk being almost 500 and 850 miles by road from Krakow, making travel potentially draining for team and supporters alike.
The one silver lining, however, to Group D would be the presence of the other host country. Ranked 55th in the world, Ukraine are hardly a superpower. They are also not Spain or Holland, the two countries who complete the list of top seeds in today’s draw.
Holland may not have emerged from the last World Cup final with much credit following the disgraceful tactics adopted in an attempt to stop the Spanish.
But they still reached the biggest game in world football on merit in South Africa so are surely best avoided until the knockout stages.
With England in the second pot of seeds along with Italy, Russia and Germany, the team to miss in the pot below is, without doubt, Portugal.
Not only have the Portuguese proved to be England’s nemesis in Euro 2004 and then the World Cup two years later, but in Cristiano Ronaldo they have a player more than capable of derailing Capello’s men entirely on his own.
Croatia also have form for causing the Three Lions problems so Sweden, beaten at Wembley last month, and a Greece side with just two draws in nine meetings with England would be the preferable draw.
Pot Four contains Denmark, France, the Czech Republic and the Republic of Ireland, meaning that perhaps the best we can ask for ahead of this tea-time’s draw is that we are spared a re-run of the snore-fest that was the 1990 World Cup group game with the Irish in Sardinia.