By Jamie Gardner in Frankfurt
NORTHERN Ireland manager Ian Baraclough says he is pleased with the outcome of yesterday’s qualifying draw for Euro 2024 in Frankfurt.
The North were in pot five and have been placed in Group H, one of the three six-team groups, alongside Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Kazakhstan and San Marino.
Baraclough’s men escaped relegation into the Uefa Nations League’s basement group by the skin of their teeth at the end of last month, coming up short against the likes of Kosovo and Cyprus on occasions, and the manager is happy to turn his attentions to what could be a competitive Euro qualifying group.
"I'm pleased that we're in a pot of six. We wanted to be in a situation where in every game there's something to play for rather than friendlies,” the former Motherwell manager said.
"Looking at the Finns and the Danes from pot one and two, it could have been a lot worse than that – I look at England and Italy, France and the Netherlands. Not being drawn in any of the first three groups was important as the draw was starting to evolve.
"I'm thinking people will look at that group and think there could be one or two surprises from it."
England manager Gareth Southgate, meanwhile, is determined to still be in post for a Euro 2024 reunion with Italy, but knows it all hinges on how his team perform in the World Cup in Qatar this winter.
England have been drawn against their Euro 2020 final conquerors in qualification Group C for the next continental finals along with Ukraine, North Macedonia and Malta.
Southgate is contracted until the end of the next Euro finals, but accepts he will be judged first on how his team get on at the World Cup, which starts next month.
"As we speak now, I'm contracted to this time in 2024, but I am also well aware that in football you have to get results,” he said.
"So the plan is there and the desire for continuity is there too, but I also don't take for granted that you underperform and expect to stay in that office."
England struggled for form during the Nations League campaign, which included a defeat to Italy in Milan last month and a goalless draw against them in Wolverhampton in June.
"We know the quality and depth that Italy have. England's record against Italy is generally not very good – and we've got to improve that," Southgate added.
While facing England at Wembley will bring back good memories for Azzurri boss Roberto Mancini, they will not be relishing a return to face North Macedonia, who eliminated the European champions in a World Cup play-off semi-final earlier this year to deny them a place in Qatar.
Wales appear to have a good chance of securing qualification for a third-consecutive major tournament after they were drawn in Group D alongside 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia, Armenia, Turkey and Latvia.
Scotland, who will be pushing to qualify for a second-successive Euros, will face three-time champions Spain, Erling Haaland's Norway plus Georgia and Cyprus in Group A.