Traditional rivals Germany and Netherlands will lock horns yet again at the Euro 2012 finals next year after the two neighbors were drawn together on Friday in the toughest group of the 16-nation tournament.
The two will play each other on June 13 in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in Group B, which also includes two other difficult-to-beat Western European nations, Portugal and Denmark.
The tournament, being co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine, will open on June 8 in Warsaw when Poland take on 2004 champions Greece. Russia and Czech Republic are also in Group A, which has a distinctly eastern feel.
Soccer’s two Mediterranean superpowers and old rivals Spain, the world and European champions, and Italy will meet each other in an intriguing first game in Group C on June 10 in the Polish port of Gdansk. Croatia and Ireland will be outsiders in that section.
The final group comprises the other co-hosts Ukraine, who will have to play England, France and Sweden in Group D, which looks like a tougher proposition than their fellow hosts face in Group A.
The draw was conducted by UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino at Kiev’s Palace of Arts before a crowd of invited guests and soccer celebrities.
He was assisted by four former European champions: Zinedine Zidane of France; Netherlands ace Marco Van Basten; Denmark goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel; and Germany striker Horst Hrubesch.
The fierce rivalry between Germany and Netherlands dates from the first competitive fixture, the 1974 World Cup final when then-West Germany came from behind to beat the Netherlands, hot favorites that year, 2-1 in Munich.
It was compounded when van Basten and company took on and beat Germany 2-1 in the 1988 Euro semi-finals in Hamburg, going on to win the title in Munich, of all places.
Germany coach Joachim Loew said: “It is the most difficult group of all. It will be very challenging, but it’s good that we start with a tough group like that.”
Netherlands team chief Bert van Marwijk agreed it was the hardest group.
“It will be a very big challenge,” he said.
Spain beat Italy on penalties in the quarter-finals of the 2008 tournament staged in Austria and Switzerland, which they went on to win. The two have met 29 times in all with Italy winning 10 times to eight for Spain.
Next year’s finals will be the third to be co-hosted.
It will be played at four stadiums in Poland — Warsaw, Gdansk, Wroclaw and Poznan, and four in Ukraine — Kiev, Donetsk, Kharkiv and Lviv.
UEFA and Ukraine soccer chiefs said on Friday they had feared at some points that Ukraine would not be able to stage its part of the 31-match tournament because of stadium and infrastructure delays and difficulties.
However, Infantino told a news conference he was now confident the tournament would be a success and that all tickets would be sold.
Euro 2012 will be the last tournament to be staged with 16 teams. The tournament expands to 24 nations at its next edition in 2016 in France.