France is to be added to the Euro 2016 qualifying setup in a revolutionary move announced on Friday.
Les Bleus will still qualify automatically as the tournament's host, but will be added to the five-team Group I after the draw's completion in order to present the team with a standardised fixture list. The move means that Didier Deschamps' side will play home and away matches against one of the nine top seeds.
The decision comes in the wake of previous host countries in both the European Championship and World Cup having found it difficult to source competitive friendly fixtures. It also means that the reduction in international dates does not reduce France's hopes of attracting high-profile friendlies. As a result of UEFA's decision, France will get to play matches against countries in the middle of their own qualifying battle.
Meanwhile, the seeds have been announced for the qualifying draw, with Spain automatically added to Pot 1 as title holder. The Spanish are joined by Germany, Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, Greece, Russia and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
The top two teams in each of the nine groups after the end of regular qualifying will advance to the finals, with the best third-placed team also progressing. The remaining eight third-placed teams will then be paired off into four playoff fixtures, with the winners of each being added to the finals draw.
In another new step, each round of qualifying fixtures will be spread over a three-day period, meaning full international weeks will include six consecutive days of qualifiers. The first round of qualifying is due to be played from September 7-9.
The draw for the qualifying stage will take place in Nyon on Feb. 23, and will include Gibraltar for the first time since gaining full FIFA membership.
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- Didier Deschamps