Reigning champions Italy were placed in the same group as Spain in Saturday’s draw for Euro 2024, while France will come up against the Netherlands and England avoided any of the toughest opponents.
Gareth Southgate’s much-fancied England side will meet Slovenia, Denmark and Serbia, with hosts Germany taking on Scotland in the tournament’s opening game on June 14 in Munich.
Italy, who beat England on penalties at Wembley in the final of the last European Championship in 2021, and Spain will also face Croatia and Albania in Group B.
Spain, victors over Italy in the final of Euro 2012, will take on 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia in their opening match in Berlin on June 15.
Italy was always likely to face a difficult draw after being placed in the bottom pot based on their results in qualifying when they scraped through with a 0-0 stalemate against Ukraine in their final match.
“When you’re in the fourth pot you know that you have a lot of teams ahead of you, but you can’t forget that you represent Italy and you have to play every match with pride,” coach Luciano Spalletti told broadcaster RAI.
The meeting of France, the 2022 World Cup runners-up, and the Netherlands will be the other heavyweight tie of the opening phase.
They were in the same section in qualifying, with France winning both encounters. The two nations are in Group D along with Austria and a play-off winner, which will be one of Poland, Wales, Finland or Estonia.
England, in contrast, will have few complaints about their opponents in Group C, although a Denmark side ranked 19th in the world was arguably the team to avoid from the second pot of seeds.
Southgate’s team considered the favourites along with France for the tournament, will take on Serbia in their opening game in Gelsenkirchen on June 16.
“I’ve stood here after quite a few draws and you always feel the same way, you can look at it on paper but the games aren’t played on paper,” Southgate told the BBC.
“One or two teams that you are obviously glad to avoid, especially in pot three, pot four, but all the teams we play are more than capable.”
He added, “We’ve developed a lot as a team over the past few years, we’re used to these big games, we’re ready for the expectation and we hope we can give our supporters some more brilliant nights as I think we have in the last few tournaments.”
If England tops their group, and France also finishes first in their section, the two sides would find themselves on the same side of the draw in the knockout phase and would be on course to meet in the semi-finals.
Scotland, who famously lost to Brazil in the opening match of the 1998 World Cup, will again have the honour of featuring in the tournament’s curtain-raiser when they meet Germany to start in Group A.
Hungary and Switzerland complete that section, which could be one of the most evenly matched.
“It’ll be nice to open the tournament, be involved in that first game, and hopefully we can set the tournament off with a good match,” Scotland manager Steve Clarke told the BBC.
Germany has been European champions three times, a record shared with Spain, but there are big doubts about their form heading into the tournament.
“It will be a very nice start against Scotland in Munich. The other games will also be exciting duels. It’s not a group of death, but a very good one,” said Germany coach Julian Nagelsmann.
Euro 2016 winners Portugal were drawn in Group F with Turkey, the Czech Republic and a play-off winner from Greece, Georgia, Luxembourg, or Kazakhstan.
Belgium is in Group E alongside Slovakia, Romania and the winner of the other play-off path, which will be Israel, Iceland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, or Ukraine.
The month-long Euro played in 10 cities across Germany, will conclude with the final in Berlin on July 14.
The top two teams in each group will qualify for the last 16, along with the four best third-placed sides.
Earlier on Saturday, European football’s governing body UEFA announced that the total prize pot for competing nations will be 331 million euros ($360m).
Each team gets 9.25 million euros as a starting amount and will earn up to a maximum of 28.25 million euros for the winner if they win all their group games.