Kiev, Ukraine, Dec 03: Spain avoided its biggest challengers in the first round of the 2012 European Championship, leaving Germany and the Netherlands in the toughest group of the competition.
Spain, which beat Germany to win the Euro 2008 title and then defeated the Dutch in last year's World Cup final, was drawn Friday in Group C with Italy, Ireland and Croatia for next year's tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
"It's a complicated group," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. "We've got an important team like Italy and two teams that got through the playoff easily. We have to worry about ourselves and preparing well so we arrive in best shape."
Three-time champion Germany and 1988 winner Netherlands — fierce rivals since meeting in the 1974 World Cup final — will face Portugal and Denmark in Group B.
"I think it's probably the strongest group, the most interesting, and of course the closest," Germany coach Joachim Loew said.
France and England were another pair of old rivals drawn together, with co-host Ukraine and Sweden in a group based in Kiev and the far flung eastern city of Donetsk.
Poland, the other host nation, was joined in Group A by Russia, Greece and Czech Republic in what many see as the weakest group.
Euro 2012 will open on June 8 in Warsaw when Poland plays 2004 champion Greece. The final is set for July 1 in Kiev.
Spain is seeking to become the first country to win two straight European titles since the competition began in 1960.
The Spanish, who also won in 1964, open with a match against Italy, pitting the past two World Cup winners against each other in the Polish port city of Gdansk on June 10. The group also plays in Poznan.
Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni will oppose his home country, which he coached at Euro 2004, in the final group match in Poznan.
"It's impossible to say which group is better," Trapattoni said. "You have to think that in football all is possible. I am confident."
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said he had wanted to avoid Trapattoni "for many reasons."
"But what matters is that we have to arrive there at our top and ready for the competition," said Prandelli, who was coached by the veteran when both were at Juventus.
The Dutch and Germans, who normally bring lots of fans with them, will play in the tournament's two smallest stadiums, in Kharkiv and Lviv, separated by 891 kilometers (554 miles). They meet on June 13 in Kharkiv.
"We are always in tough groups, but if you get through you're in a flow," Netherlands playmaker Wesley Sneijder said. "We should definitely be able to get through."
England, which has one of the largest traveling supports, will make two trips to Donetsk, where airport and accommodation plans are under the biggest stress. Despite playing in Ukraine, the team is expected to be based in Poland.
England and France will meet on June 10 in Donetsk — a repeat of their Euro 2004 opener when Zinedine Zidane's stoppage-time goals earned a dramatic 2-1 win.
"It's always complicated between France and England," French coach Laurent Blanc said. "It's always very, very competitive and there's a lot of danger."
Blanc said England was the group favorite, but noted it will be without suspended striker Wayne Rooney, who will try to have his three-match ban reduced on appeal at UEFA's Swiss headquarters next Thursday.
England coach Fabio Capello already looked ahead to potential quarterfinal opponents, when teams advancing from groups C and D will meet in Ukraine.
"If we get out of the group we could play Spain or Italy," Capello told Spanish TV station Cuatro. "The options we face if we get out of the group will be tremendous not just for us, but for them also."
While the draw presents logistical challenges for UEFA and the host nations, the quality of matches appeared to outweigh potential problems.
"Every team here is good," Loew said. "It's not like a World Cup where you might get Costa Rica or other such teams. It will be exciting. I'm not afraid."