The draw for Euro 2020 takes place on Saturday in Bucharest amid much head-scratching and criticism about the complex format for a competition which for the first time will be held in 12 cities in 12 different nations across the continent. It is just the second 24-team Euro after 2016 in France, and the decision to do away with having just one, or two, hosts will not be repeated with the tournament heading to Germany in 2024. It can be politely described as an ambitious move by ex-UEFA president Michel Platini to mark the 60th anniversary of the first European Championship. The Frenchman, who has just completed a four-year ban from football, championed the concept, saying in 2012: "It is perhaps a bit of a zany idea but it is a good idea."
The coaches of all qualified nations will be in attendance for the draw ceremony beginning at 1700 GMT on Saturday at the Romexpo exhibition centre in Romania's capital, which will host four matches at the finals. Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman will be there too, despite recently claiming he might not turn up. "I don't really understand this new format. I have asked my federation if I still need to bother going to the draw," he told Dutch media.
The decision to expand the tournament from 16 teams to 24 means there is now little prospect of a major nation failing to qualify. Now much of the suspense has also gone from the draw itself, with the need to ensure qualified host nations get to play at least two matches at home meaning many teams already know which group they will be in. Four of the six top seeds are hosting games, with Ukraine and Belgium the only exceptions. However, the decision to keep Ukraine and Russia apart for diplomatic and security reasons has had an impact on the Belgians. They therefore already know they will be in Group B along with two hosts, Denmark and Russia. The only suspense is whether Wales or Finland complete their group.
"It is a scandal, honestly," Belgium's Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne said recently. "For me they are sort of falsifying the competition. It takes all the pleasure away from the draw." Then there is the fact that the draw will take place without all 24 finalists being known -- the last four spots will go to the winners of play-offs next March.
On top of that, UEFA have themselves accepted the impact on the environment caused by the continent-wide format at a time when, in particular, the impact of flying on climate change is such a major concern. European football's governing body have estimated that 405,000 tonnes of carbon emissions will be produced by fans and staff travelling to games and in response have promised to invest in "emission reduction projects".
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has defended the format, but admitted "it also has a cost, with increased travel for fans to watch their teams play. Here, UEFA takes its responsibilities seriously and it is right that we offset the resulting carbon emissions."
France, Portugal not top seeds
Matches will be played from Dublin and Bilbao to Saint Petersburg and to Baku, although the semi-finals and final will take place at Wembley, with the latter game on July 12.
Italy already know they will host the opening game in Rome on June 12 and they are one of the top seeds, as are England, Germany and Spain. That means World Cup holders France lurk dangerously in Pot Two alongside a revived Netherlands, while reigning European champions Portugal sit in the third pot. The destiny of those sides will provide the greatest interest in the draw, and it is possible that France will find themselves in the same group as Italy, Portugal and Wales.
England, meanwhile, could also find themselves in the same group as France and Portugal, as well as Scotland should they qualify. However, Gareth Southgate's side will be confident of making the knockout phase given they will play at Wembley. And the prospect of having home advantage should they make the semi-finals is an added incentive for them.