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Friday, January 27, 2006
Sven: My successor will be happy with draw

Sven-Goran Eriksson believes his successor will be happy with the draw to qualify for the European Championships in 2008, although the Swede is wary of the smaller nations England will meet.

Eriksson attended the draw in Montreux, Switzerland, but will not be in charge for the campaign after announcing he will leave his post as boss following the World Cup this summer.

• See the full draw here.

England face potentially tough trips to Croatia, Russia and Israel in their qualifying campaign for the 2008 tournament but appear in the driving seat to reach the finals in Austria and Switzerland.

'I think England should be happy, there are groups much more difficult than England's,' said Eriksson. 'It's good for England.

'I think that England should be rather happy about the draw. It could be much worse.

'For example Group B with France, Italy and Ukraine, and Group F with Sweden, Spain and Denmark.'

Of his successor, he added: 'He should be happy with the draw and he will be, whoever it is.'

England will also face Estonia, Macedonia and Andorra in Group E.

Eriksson added: 'I think it's okay but you can look at the less famous teams and think they might be easy, but it is never easy and I can confirm that having taken England into several qualifying campaigns.

'It's difficult, for even the smaller football nations are becoming better, but I think who is coming after me will be happy with this draw.'

The top two from the group automatically qualify for the finals, with no play-off system.

Croatia will be considered the biggest threat to England after they qualified for the World Cup without losing a game. They include former Aston Villa striker Bosko Balaban and current Rangers marksman Dado Prso.

Israel also went through their World Cup qualifying campaign unbeaten but they could only finish third - behind Switzerland and France - and will not be in Germany this summer.

Andorra, Estonia and Macedonia are not expected to challenge at the top of England's group, although Macedonia earned a draw against Eriksson's men at St Mary's during the last qualifying campaign.

'All the small football nations are getting better and better,' Eriksson told Sky Sports. 'When we played Macedonia everyone thought it was easy but it ended 2-2.'

Russia, meanwhile, missed out on a World Cup play-off on goal difference after finishing level on points with second-placed Slovakia.

Slovakia will face Republic of Ireland and Wales in Group D in a tough start to the reign of new Irish boss Steve Staunton. Germany and the Czech Republic are expected to qualify from the group.

'It's obviously going to be tough but there were a couple of other draws that were harder,' Staunton said. 'From a travel point of view it's worked out well, we've missed some of the long trips.

'We have Wales on our doorstep also, Czech Republic are not going to be easy - they will be good competitive games.

'Two places are up for grabs, you don't have to qualify though the play-offs and I think everybody's happy with that.'

Staunton admitted he would want to face Germany and the Czech Republic earlier in the campaign, adding: 'Maybe they'll be a bit tired and we can catch them on the hop. From the fans' point of view it is a good draw.'

Of the home nations, Scotland received the toughest draw and Walter Smith's side will face Italy, France and Ukraine along with Lithuania, Georgia and the Faroe Islands.

Northern Ireland will meet Sweden, Spain, Denmark, Latvia, Iceland and Liechtenstein in Group F.

Meanwhile, Eriksson revealed his is prepared to help the Football Association with advice about how England's fixtures could be scheduled.

'If they want me in the meeting talking about the fixtures, of course I will give my opinion,' he added.

Portugal and Poland were drawn in Group A, which included Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

'I thought England would be in Group A but Poland came up, so for England it was good,' Eriksson added. 'Going to Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Armenia is a long way.'

Wales boss John Toshack is happy with his team's draw and is looking forward in particular to facing Germany and the Republic of Ireland.

'The key for us is the availability of our best players,' he said.

'If we are able to have our better players there and our commitment is right then we are excited to think we can have a good run at this one.

'With all due respect to the other teams in our group, we have to say we cannot complain about the draw. We are reasonably pleased.'

Toshack, who has a personal reason for enthusiasm about taking on Germany, is challenging his players to create history by qualifying authentically for a major tournament for the first time.

'I made my own debut in Germany, so that is an attractive tie for me,' he said.

'The Czech Republic have knocked teams like Spain and Holland out of the top group of sides. That shows how formidable they have become in the last few years.'

When Wales reached the World Cup finals back in 1958 they did so only after an extra place became available.

Toshack concluded: 'We are trying to do something that has never been done before.

'We have never qualified for a major championship, so the motivation is to try to do that this time.'

Scotland boss Smith hopes the bigger teams in Group B can take points off each other to keep other countries involved in qualifying.

Italy could only draw at Hampden in qualifying for the World Cup this summer, which also gave Smith encouragement.

'With Italy and France we know the quality of their players and performances over the last few years,' Smith told Sky Sports.

'We take a positive view of those games against Italy and if we continue that improvement it could lead to a positive set of results.

'In the last campaign we were always catching up so we are looking for a good start, that is an important factor in a qualifying campaign.

'We hope that points will be dropped either way, if that is the way it pans out then we can stay there and create what would be an upset.'

Northern Ireland boss Lawrie Sanchez and his assistant manager Gerry Armstrong have fond memories about playing against the Spanish.

Sanchez said: 'There maybe something of an omen there because I made my debut against Spain, and Gerry Armstrong made his name against them.'

Armstrong's famous goal defeat hosts Spain in the 1982 World Cup and Sanchez believes they will not relish coming to Belfast.

He added: 'Spain and Sweden will of course be tough but, with them and with Denmark, I think they are games that we might be able to get something from.

'Spain don't travel too well I understand, so hopefully when they come to Belfast we can make something out of that.

Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff admitted he was concerned about having to face Wales and the Republic of Ireland.

'Fortunately there are not any difficult long trips, but we do have to go to Ireland and Wales,' the former AC Milan and Udinese striker told ZDF television.

'Ireland are very strong at home and are a very physical side. They will be backed passionately and it's going to be a really big game, but that can also be a motivation for our players.

'Wales are also an uncomfortable opponent and it's difficult playing in Cardiff. They don't allow you many chances and certainly cannot be underestimated.'

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