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O'Neill could be facing England

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MARTIN O'NEILL and Roy Keane could be planning for a double-date with England if seeding provisions for the Euro 2016 draw drop Roy Hodgson's team in the top qualifying pot.

England should be named among the top seeds courtesy of their unbeaten record in securing automatic qualification for World Cup 2014.

And with Ireland expected to be named in the second rank of seeds, the possibility of match-up with England is very real.

But competing nations will be baffled by the news that hosts France will play a part in the qualification series but will not be playing for points.

France will be the first host nation to take part in a European Championships qualification phase and while Les Bleus will retain automatic tournament qualification, their group-stage games will be played as friendlies in which no points will be awarded.

CENTRALISED

The new rule governing France's involvement is as follows; "The teams drawn into the group of five teams will have France added to their group for the purpose of playing centralised friendlies."

The regulation shift means France will be added to the group-stage draw, creating nine pools of six teams. Previous competitions have had eight pools of six teams and one comprising five.

With 24 teams, including France, contesting the finals the top two in each group will qualify automatically with one place given to the best of the rest and a further four places to be decided in a play-off process involving the remaining eight third-placed nations.

UEFA will confirm the six seeding pots today ahead of the pool-stage draw in Nice on February 23.

Gibraltar, accepted as a separate UEFA member state after winning a court of arbitration in sport ruling, will be among the countries in the draw for the first time.

It is understood UEFA will aim to keep Gibraltar and Spain apart in the qualifying draw due to political sensitivity.


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