With a colorful and smooth ceremony, host Germany brilliantly mastered the first test on the way to the European Football Championship in two years.
"We are very happy with how things went. The bright colors should represent exactly how we want to present ourselves in 2024. As an open and diverse country where everyone is welcome," said tournament director Philipp Lahm after the draw for the qualifying groups in the Frankfurter festival hall.
The entertaining event, at the beginning of which pop star Lena presented her current song "Looking for Love", was the official starting signal for the finals from June 14 to July 14, 2024. "As of today, everyone feels that something big is about to happen. Of course we're looking forward to that," said DFB President Bernd Neuendorf.
Replay of the EURO final in Group B
Since Germany is set as the host, the 61-year-old was able to watch the 45-minute draw in a relaxed manner, as could national coach Hansi Flick and DFB director Oliver Bierhoff. "When I see Group B and C, I think it's good that we're already qualified," said Neuendorf, looking at the two losers.
In Group B there will be a repeat of the 2021 European Championship final between defending champions Italy and the European Championship runners-up England. In Group C, two top teams meet with world champions France and the Netherlands. A total of 53 national teams are fighting for the 23 free starting places.
The first two teams in each of the ten qualifying groups get a ticket to the European Championship. The remaining three participants will be determined in the play-offs. The opening game of the final round takes place in Munich, the final in Berlin. Other venues are Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Gelsenkirchen, Hamburg, Cologne, Leipzig and Stuttgart.
Russia excluded from the tournament
Russia is not included. The 2018 World Cup hosts were banned from the tournament by the European Football Union because of the war of aggression in Ukraine and were not even mentioned at the ceremony in Frankfurt. "We all know the reasons why Russia isn't there. It doesn't need any further explanation," Neuendorf said. Lahm also defended the approach: "If you mention Russia, you would also give them a stage. The focus was on the nations participating in the qualification."
With a view to the global political situation and the upcoming World Cup in Qatar, which has been heavily criticized for the human rights situation in the desert country, among other things, Lahm once again emphasized the importance of EURO 2024. "We can show our values, for which we as a country in Europe stand and carry them to the outside world, which is all the more important these days," said the 38-year-old ex-national player.
Neuendorf: "Must be a sustainable tournament"
To make the EM a success, however, many things would have to fit together. "But I'm very confident about that. I think people are looking forward to having another event on their doorstep and welcoming people to celebrate a festival together in the heart of Europe," said Lahm.
The German Football Association wants to do its part. "As a huge association with seven million members, we have a social responsibility. We want to live up to it. It has to be a sustainable tournament," said DFB boss Neuendorf. "We think a lot about the issues that are relevant in society and how football can play its part. I see that as our task."