Spain gets nice draw for Euro 2016 qualifiers

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NICE, France (AP) - Two-time defending European champion Spain faces a seemingly comfortable road to defend its title at Euro 2016 after being drawn Sunday with Luxembourg, Macedonia, Belarus, Slovakia and Ukraine for the qualifiers.

“It’s not as easy a group as it might appear to some. We are facing emerging teams who are young and strong,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said of the Group C draw. “The cold conditions could play a role in the group because many of the trips will be to teams from the east.”

The Netherlands was drawn in a tougher-looking Group A and faces the Czech Republic, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Iceland and Latvia.

“The Dutch are the favorites. Together with them, it will be us, Turkey and Iceland fighting to advance,” Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Cech said. “We have to cope with it if we want to go to France.”

There will be eight groups of six teams and one of five, each playing home and away. The top two teams from the nine groups qualify, along with the best third-placed side. The eight remaining third-placed sides will contest play-offs with four spots at stake.

Host France is the 24th team and automatically qualified. It will play matches in Group I, but no points will be awarded for their matches.

UEFA made the change because host nations can struggle to arrange suitable friendlies while others focus on qualification.

Germany, the runner-up to Spain at Euro 2008, is in Group D and has potentially awkward matches against the Republic of Ireland and Poland - led by Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski - with Gibraltar, Georgia and Scotland also in the group.

“The matches against Scotland will be great occasions,” Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill said. “It looks like a group, Germany apart, where teams might take points off each other.”

England will be pleased with what looks like a winnable Group E featuring Switzerland, San Marino, Lithuania, Estonia and Slovenia.

“I’m very satisfied, in particular for the fans. We’ve had some quite tough trips to get to in recent years, but there’s some good places to visit,” England coach Roy Hodgson said. “The name Switzerland always brings a smile to my face because they were four fantastic years (as national team coach).”

But Wales’ bid to qualify might mean going through the playoffs as Group B contains Eden Hazard’s Belgium and the attacking strength of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is completed by Andorra, Cyprus and Israel.

“I’m happy, positive,” Wales coach Chris Coleman said. “We managed to get a point in Belgium (in World Cup qualifying) and were unlucky at home.”

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots was happy overall.

“I am not going to say it is a beautiful draw, because every match is difficult,” Wilmots said. “But I will return home feeling satisfied.”

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