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England face Wales and N. Ireland

From left to right: Schumacher, Blatter, Pele, Beckenbauer
From left to right: Schumacher, Blatter, Pele, Beckenbauer

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FRANKFURT, Germany -- England have been drawn against British nations Wales and Northern Ireland in a fascinating European qualifying group for the 2006 World Cup finals.

Poland, Austria and Azerbaijan complete the line-up in Group Six, in the draw made by top referee Pierluigi Collina and F1 champion Michael Schumacher.

European champions and 1998 world champions France are up against Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland in Group Four.

Meanwhile, The Netherlands and the Czech Republic have been drawn against each other for the third straight time.

The Czechs beat the Dutch to win their Euro 2004 qualifying group -- and were they also placed together at next year's European Championship finals.

"At least we'll know perfectly well how to get there," said Dutch coach Dick Advocaat.

"It's a group with few easy countries, it includes Romania and Finland. But we shouldn't complain, it's just as tough for the Czechs," he added.

England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson admitted his team would not find it easy against their British rivals.

"It's local derbies, more or less. Wales did very well in qualification for Euro 2004. They could have won the group and it will not be easy at all," said the Swede.

"I am sure Wales want to beat England at any cost but we want the same. We will wait and see."

The eight European groups will produce 13 teams for the finals -- the group winners, the two best runners-up and three others from the playoffs between the other six runners-up.


GROUP 1 -- Czech Rep, Netherlands, Romania, Finland, Macedonia, Armenia, Andorra

GROUP 2 -- Turkey, Denmark, Greece, Ukraine, Georgia, Albania, Kazakhstan

GROUP 3 -- Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg

GROUP 4 -- France, Ireland, Switzerland, Israel, Cyprus, Faroe Islands

GROUP 5 -- Italy, Slovenia, Scotland, Norway, Belarus, Moldova

GROUP 6 -- England, Poland, Austria, Wales, Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan

GROUP 7 -- Spain, Belgium, Serbia/Montenegro, Bosnia, Lithuania, San Marino

GROUP 8 -- Sweden, Croatia, Bulgaria, Iceland, Hungary, Malta

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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