Soccer: Israel draws England, Russia in Euro 2008 qualifiers

Israel will face England in an official match for the first time, after the countries were drawn to play together in Group E of the qualifying round of the 2008 European soccer championships. The blue-and-white squad, coached for the first time by Dror Kashtan, will also battle Croatia, Russia, Estonia, Macedonia and Andorra for qualification for Euro 2008, which will take place in Switzerland and Austria. The first match of the campaign will take place in August 2006. Representatives of all the teams will meet next month do make up the schedule. Kashtan and Israel Football Association chairman Itche Menahem attended the draw in Switzerland. "England is the strongest team in the group," Kashtan said after the draw was made. "It's [England] the birth place of soccer and this will be the first time we have faced them in an official match," he added. "Russia and Croatia are also very strong teams. The rest of the teams are very interesting as we've never faced any of them in an official match before." Menahem added. "It's a pretty good draw. If you look at the six other groups, you can say it's a reasonable draw, but definitely not an easy one. It's a very attractive draw and the fans in Israel are in for a treat." The system for qualification has changed with every the team finishing in first or second place in its group automatically qualifying. Israel will face an England team without coach Sven-Goran Eriksson after the Swede announced last week that he will be leaving his post following the World Cup this summer. "I think England should be happy with the draw. There are groups much more difficult than the England group, so I think it's very good," the England coach told Sky Sports. "Israel are coming [and improving] but all the small football nations are becoming better and better. I remember playing Macedonia and everyone thought it was an easy game but we drew 2-2. "It's never easy, it shouldn't be at that level but I think the England fans and man coming after me will be happy with this draw." Israel fans will be delighted with the opportunity to watch David Beckham and Wayne Rooney in Ramat Gan and will already be looking forward to following the blue-and-white to the new Wembley Stadium. Croatia, tipped to make an impact at the World Cup this summer, is not the most difficult team Israel could have got from the second level, but is a tough and strong team that is on the rise. Contrary to the Croatians, Russia is at an all-time low. The Russians will hope to rebound from a disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign and make a serious run at qualification. Israel will also face Macedonia, Estonia and Andorra for the first time. If Israel is to have any kind of chance of qualifying, it will need to beat all three of the teams home and away. Also in the Euro 2008 draw, European and world champion France and three-time World Cup winner Italy were placed together in Group B. Scotland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia and the Faroe Islands will join the two European giants. Fifty teams will play in the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign. Three other World Cup-bound teams - Portugal, Poland and Serbia-Montenegro - were put into Group A, which was almost as difficult as Ukraine's Group B. Other interesting matchups include Sweden, Spain and Denmark in Group F, and the Czech Republic, Germany and Slovakia in Group D. "It will be a battle in each of the games," Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. France has not lost to Italy since the 1978 World Cup, and the team beat the Azzurri in the 2000 final and in the 1998 World Cup quarterfinals. "I am happy to play against Italy," France coach Raymond Domenech said. "It's a big team. I've wanted to play Italy." Italy coach Marcello Lippi knew the draw on the shores of Lake Geneva could have been better. "Ukraine, which is a growing power, France and Scotland are tough opponents," he told SKY Italia television network. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report The full draw: Group A: Kazakhstan Azerbaijan Armenia Finland Belgium Serbia & Montenegro Poland Portugal Group B: Faroe Islands Georgia Lithuania Scotland Ukraine Italy France Group C: Malta Moldova Hungary Bosnia-Herzegovina Norway Turkey Greece Group D: San Marino Cyprus Wales Rep of Ireland Slovakia Germany Czech Republic Group E: Andorra Macedonia Estonia Israel Russia Croatia England Group F: Liechtenstein Northern Ireland Iceland Latvia Denmark Spain Sweden Group G: Luxembourg Belarus Albania Slovenia Bulgaria Romania Holland