The UEFA European Championship takes its first step into a new era when the qualifying draw for UEFA EURO 2016 signals the start of the road to France.
After the FIFA World Cup finals draw in Bahia, eyes will fall on Nice on 23 February when a record field of 53 nations will learn the challenge that awaits them as they bid for EURO glory. The draw gets under way at 12.00CET and will be streamed live on UEFA.com.
The spectacular Mediterranean city is a jewel on the Cote d'Azur and will be in full carnival mode as an array of famous faces take to the stage at the Palais des Congrès Acropolis to help determine the qualifying groups ahead of the expanded final tournament.
For the first time in UEFA European Championship history, 24 countries will contest the finals, with France already assured of their place as hosts. For many of UEFA's member associations, that has opened up the real possibility of a debut outing in a major tournament, or a return to the forefront of the game after a number of years on the sidelines – adding another dimension to the competition's inclusive slogan, Le Rendez-Vous.
The UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying competition will be organised in accordance with the Week of Football match schedule. This scheduling format involves matches being played from Thursday to Tuesday. Kick-off times will be largely set at 18.00CET and 20.45CET on Saturdays and Sundays, and at 20.45CET on other days. On double-header matchweeks, teams will play on Thursday and Sunday, or Friday and Monday, or Saturday and Tuesday.
The 15th edition of the UEFA European Championship also represents a return to the competition's roots, the tournament having been the brainchild of UEFA's first General Secretary, Frenchman Henri Delaunay – after whom the trophy is named. The inaugural finals were also held in France in 1960, and returned there for a memorable summer of football in 1984.
This time, ten venues around the country will stage games at the championship, with new stadiums either completed or under construction in Lille, Nice, Bordeaux and Lyon, and renovations under way in Marseille, Saint-Etienne, Toulouse, Lens and at the Parc des Princes in Paris. The Stade de France in Saint-Denis will be the setting for the final on 10 July 2016, when a ground-breaking month of action reaches its climax.
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