SPORTS

Greece can expect to meet heavyweights in preliminaries

Given an anticipated low seeding yesterday by UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, ahead of a November 30 draw in Lisbon to determine how the 16 Euro 2004 finalists will be divided into four groups of four, Greece can subsequently expect to confront tough competition in the first round of group play in Portugal next summer. The 16 finalists have been divided into four pre-draw pots – A, B, C, and D – beginning with the strongest and ending with the weakest, theoretically to avoid powerhouse clashes and eliminations early in the June 12 – July 4 European Championship tournament. The four groups at next year’s finals will be made up of teams from each pot. Pot A, or the highest-ranking finalists, consists of the Czech Republic, France, host nation Portugal, and Sweden; England, Germany, Italy and Spain make up Pot B; Croatia, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Russia are in Pot C; and Bulgaria, Greece, Latvia, and Switzerland, the outsiders, comprise Pot D. The winners and runners-up of the soccer competition’s four groups will advance to knockout play, beginning with the quarterfinals. Despite the draw’s streamlining, some heavyweight action can be expected in preliminary play. For instance, the star-studded Dutch side – ranked low in Pot C but nevertheless a formidable force, as proven by Wednesday’s 6-0 annihilation of Scotland in a second-leg playoff – will face teams from pots A and B, which include England, France, Italy, Germany and Portugal. Immediately after UEFA announced its seedings yesterday, a British bookmaker, William Hill, offered his odds for the tournament. France is the bookmaker’s top choice for the title with odds of 100/30, followed by Italy on 11/2 odds. Greece was given 50/1 odds, while Bulgaria, Croatia, Russia, and Switzerland trail with 66/1 odds. Latvia, which stunned 2002 World Cup semifinalist Turkey in Wednesday’s playoff, is, according to the bookmaker, the tournament’s outsider, with odds of 200/1.