With the days falling away until The Netherlands take to the Stadion Galgenwaard pitch in Utrecht to kick the 2017 European Championships off the hosts were one of the sixteen teams who learned of their group allocation earlier today in Rotterdam.
The draw took place in standard fashion with a ball from each pot being drawn followed by their location within their group, the teams from Pot 1 drawn first without the need for placement as the highest seeds automatically taking the top spot. Working from Pots 4 to 2, Belgium were the first team out of the lowest ranked pot and were drawn into the position four within Group A and so on until every team had been drawn and allocated a position.
As hosts, The Netherlands had already effectively been draw into spot A1, knowing neighbours France and Germany were unable to be drawn into the same group as both nations are top seeds, Holland still found themselves in a mini-derby with Belgium. Spots two and three having been drawn to Norway and Denmark respectively, the Danes with a 50/50 chance of being drawn against one of their Scandinavian neighbours.
Norway will see themselves as group favourites whilst Holland, Denmark and Belgium could be locked in a three-way tie for a runner-up spot. The Belgian Red Flames the lowest ranked team and tournament debutants will still fancy their chances against a Netherlands team that has lost a considerable number of key players of the last twelve months who could either rise to the challenge of a home tournament or buckle under the pressure.
The first ball to be drawn today was Germany and the eight-time champions are the team to beat (or the team to avoid). Followed out of their respective bowls by teams ranked 22 and 17 respectively, Russia and Italy with familiar foes, Sweden the last to complete the group.
Whilst Russia and Italy will be looking to make a statement or at least put in a strong performance to boost visibility back home the match to kick the group off at the Rat Verlegh Stadion in Breda is one that already has fans licking their lips.
Well versed with each other especially in this competition, Sweden having been knocked out of the Euros by Germany in four of their last outings (Norway the other team to frequently halt Blågult). But it’s not just the European Championships where Die Nationalelf reign supreme over Sweden, with Germany having been the last team Sweden faced at both the Olympics and the World Cup, the Germans victorious in both competitions.
In a slightly more muted group perpetual bridesmaids, France will face three nations making their bow in the tournament; Iceland, Austria and Switzerland. Although France will undoubtedly be favourites to top the group and make a good fist of the tournament there will be plenty of buzz around the new faces.
Switzerland are one of the few teams at the tournament who boast a 100% record in qualifying, their group probably not one of the hardest in qualification, La Nati still proved themselves as an up and coming team, with more and more quality players coming out of Switzerland.
Group topers Iceland’s only blemish on their qualifying record was a shock home defeat to runners-up Scotland, after the exploits of the men’s side at the 2016 Euros, Stelpurnar Okkar will hope for something similar and will be hopeful of finishing as group runners-up. Austria claimed their spot in the tournament by way of a mixed qualifying campaign, one of the surprise packages of the groups, Austria’s quality highlighted in a 2-2 against Norway in Oslo.
In the build-up to the draw the buzz had been around a potential meet up between England and northern neighbours Scotland. With just a one in four chance of the two meeting in the group stages fans around the country were left smiling as Iceland fell into Group C, leaving only Scotland left in Pot 3 and confirming their spot in Group D with England.
Joined by fellow debutants Portugal – the lowest ranked runner-up having sealed their spot in Holland in dramatic fashion against Romania in the second-leg of their play-off. A Selecção das Quinas awarded their own mini-derby against an establish Spanish team, the group picking itself as the potential for some feisty match-ups fell into place.
Despite the lack of experience over half of the group there is no easy match to be had, Portugal had truly impressive moments in qualifying and Scotland did well to learn and adapt en route to their first major tournament. Spain are a team full of potential but a recent narrow loss to England only served to highlight the flaws and problems for La Rojas, but group favourites England are too guilty of being subpar in recent matches. A real banana skin of a group, nothing is a certainty.
There will be two matches each day from the day the tournament kicks off on the 16 July until the last group matches on 27 July. All four Group A teams will play on the 16th, B on the 17th, C on the 18 thand so on, and as always the last group games will kick off simultaneously and each venue (except De Grolsch Veste) will be used evenly throughout the group stages.
The winner of Group A will face the runner up of Group B on the 29 July and the winner of Group B will take on the runner-up from Group A on the same day. The winners and runners-up from Group C and D will face each other in the same fashion the following day. Both semi-finals will take place on the 3 August with the final scheduled for the 6th.