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'There are groups you might call mundane . . . but ours is exciting'

THE draw for the 2016 European Championship qualifying campaign was made yesterday as Scotland were put in a group comprising Germany, Poland, Georgia, Gibraltar and the Republic of Ireland.

Scotland were drawn as part of Group D in a typically glamorous ceremony in Nice. Picture: PA
Scotland were drawn as part of Group D in a typically glamorous ceremony in Nice. Picture: PA

The composition of Group D was delayed only by the wearisome banter which has become part of these ceremonies, although there will be greater obstacles to overcome for Gordon Strachan as he attempts to lead the national team to its first major finals in 18 years.

Scotland's qualifying campaign will begin on September 7 with a fixture away to top seeds Germany. Strachan will also send his side out against Georgia at home and Poland away before the turn of the year as the Scotland manager seeks to negotiate a testing start to the campaign. That is in contrast to how the fixture schedule began for the World Cup qualifiers - in which the Scots finished fourth in Group A - when two home matches and a trip to Wales was considered a chance to generate early momentum.

There is a match at home to Martin O'Neill's Republic of Ireland on November 14, with the reverse match to come in June next year. The results of those matches are likely to have a telling impact on Scotland's hopes of reaching the finals in France, while there is further intrigue to be found in the dugouts.

O'Neill and Strachan are two former Celtic managers thrown together in international competition. "If we play at the level we can play at we can definitely qualify," said the Scotland manager, who attended the draw in Nice.

"If we keep all our players fit we'll have a chance and the Republic, Poland and Georgia will be thinking the same. It's a hard group and I think any of the teams in our group will be saying this is going to be hard."

O'Neill made a similar prediction, with Ireland and Poland expected to be the teams most likely to compete with Scotland for qualification. The format for the finals has been altered so that 24 teams will compete in France - as opposed to 16 - a proposal which was championed by both the Scottish Football Association and its counterparts in Ireland.

"I think it's the toughest group but it's an exciting one," said O'Neill. "Somebody told me [the associations had proposed expanding the tournament] so it is ironic they have ended up in the same group.

"I'm sure he [Strachan] is looking forward to it. I'm sure he'll be as excited as I am. It's tough, there are other groups we might have preferred to be in but we'll get on with it. Germany you would say are the outstanding side in the group but there's plenty to fight for."

Strachan will hope to be in a strong position ahead of the final qualifiers, with his side finishing with home matches against Germany and Poland, before a trip to Gibraltar. The group minnows had initially been drawn in a group with Spain, only to be moved to Group D due to political reasons.

It is a fixture which Strachan is looking forward to. "It's going to be very exciting for Gibraltar," he said. "I have been there a couple of times on holiday but I have never watched any football there, that's for sure. We will be looking forward to that one too.

"Every tie has something in it. You've got Gibraltar, new to the competition; Germany, one of the best teams in the world. Then there is the Republic of Ireland and I think the two sets of supporters will turn those games into a cup tie. There are some groups you might call mundane but we're definitely in an exciting group. It's a terrific, terrific draw."

There was a sense of satisfaction for Germany too, although Joachim Loew acknowledged that the most testing fixtures facing his side would come against Scotland.

"It has always been hard when we have played against them in the past," said the Germany head coach. "Gordon Strachan was a good tough player and his team will be the same."

Group D:

Germany, Gibraltar, Georgia, Scotland, Poland, Republic of Ireland

Fixtures: September 7 Germany (A), October 11 Georgia (H), October 14 Poland (A), November 14 Republic of Ireland (H)

2015: March 29 Gibraltar (H), June 13 Republic of Ireland (A), September 4 Georgia (A), September 7 Germany (H), October 8 Poland (H), October 11 Gibraltar (A)

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