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Preparations for UEFA EURO 2016 are gathering pace – and with the qualifying competition draw in Nice on 23 February edging ever closer, the president of EURO 2016 SAS, Jacques Lambert, is satisfied with the work being undertaken to ensure that the final tournament in France is a true festival of football.
At its meeting in Nyon, which ended on Friday, the UEFA Executive Committee approved the draw procedure for the Nice ceremony, which will feature 53 European national associations as the championship passes another milestone on the road to the French finals between 10 June and 10 July 2016.
For the first time, 24 countries will take part in a EURO final round, and the tournament will be staged at ten venues – Bordeaux, Lens, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Paris, Saint-Denis, Saint-Etienne and Toulouse.
"We are on schedule," Mr Lambert told UEFA.com after the Executive Committee meeting. "The work on the stadium construction sites is moving forward and is, from an overall point of view, in accordance with our expectations. As far as the organisation teams are concerned – those of UEFA in Nyon, and of EURO 2016 SAS in Paris – everyone is at work." EURO 2016 SAS is responsible for all operational aspects of the final round.
"Around 20 people are working in Paris at the moment," he added, "and I think the staff is now going to grow regularly. The amount of work and the pressure is starting to grow for everyone, but this is normal." France is making excellent use of the considerable experience it gained as hosts of the 1998 FIFA World Cup in preparing a spectacular tournament in just over two years' time.
The UEFA Executive Committee gave the green light to the UEFA EURO 2016 regulations at its meeting in Bilbao, Spain, in December. The competition slogan – Le Rendez-Vous – was unveiled last October, while the logo was launched in June.
Under the qualifying competition format, the nine group winners, the nine runners-up and the best third-placed team will qualify directly for UEFA EURO 2016. The eight remaining third-placed sides will contest two-legged play-off ties to determine the last four nations to go through to the finals.
In the meantime, France will be partnered with the five-team group at the qualifying draw, which will enable the 2016 hosts to play friendlies against these countries on their 'spare' dates.
"The advantages [of this] are rather simple," said Mr Lambert. "If, as is the case with France, a team is obliged just to play friendly matches, while other teams play qualifying matches, the major difficulty is to find opponents. Now the international calendar is organised in a uniform way throughout the world. Consequently, nearly all the teams in the world – whether it be in Europe, Africa or South America – play on the same days.
"In putting France automatically in a group where there will be teams who do not play on each matchday, this will give France the chance to play friendly matches against ready-made opposition."
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