SOME familiar faces, but the potential for a fraught return trip to Wembley. The Euro 2020 draw was initially quite kind to Gareth Southgate and his England side, but scratch below the surface and the likelihood of a difficult tournament lurks.

England have been drawn into Group D for next summer’s European Championships, which will see matches played in 12 host cities scattered across the continent.

Assured of their position as top seeds thanks to their strong performance in qualifying, England face group games against Croatia, who beat them in the semi-finals of the last World Cup, Czech Republic, who beat them in Prague as recently as October, and the winners of play-off C, taking place next March, which will either be Scotland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia or Norway.

Given that Southgate’s side will benefit greatly from playing all of their group matches at Wembley, their task could have been much stiffer. Croatia have regressed since their appearance in the World Cup final and suffered a 2-1 defeat when they visited Wembley in the Nations League. Czech Republic sprang a surprise a couple of months ago, but were thrashed 5-0 in the reverse fixture at the start of England’s qualifying campaign.

“The two teams that we know, we have had really good results against them and poor results,” said Southgate. “So, it’s not a group we can be complacent about. I think everyone will be looking at Group F (containing Germany, France and Portugal) and be pleased they’re not in it. But Croatia at Wembley is a brilliant opening game for the fans and the players.”

England kick off their campaign against Croatia on June 14, with the play-off winners next up on June 19. Should Scotland triumph in their play-off campaign, they would set up a repeat of the Wembley fixture settled by Paul Gascoigne’s brilliance during Euro 96. England round off their group campaign with a match against Czech Republic on June 23.

So far, so inviting. But things could get markedly more difficult if England top Group D as their second-round game would pit them against the runners-up from Group F in Dublin. Group F, already earmarked as the ‘Group of Death’ is the pool containing Germany, France and Portugal.

At this stage, a scenario where it would be better to finish second in the group looks possible, with the runners-up in England’s pool facing a second-round match against the second-placed team from Group E (containing Spain, Sweden, Poland and another play-off team which could be either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland) in Copenhagen.

“Everyone else can work through that like they had to in Russia,” said Southgate. “It was a bit like, ‘Do we want to be top seeds for this draw?’ In the end, you want to try and win every game you play and at least have control of your destiny. Then fortune will take you wherever it takes you.

“At a tournament, you have to have a strategy to get out of the group – that’s three games not one – and then you go from there. We want to make Wembley somewhere that teams fear coming, and we do that by the level of our performance.”

Wales are the only other host nation currently assured of a place in the finals, and Ryan Giggs’ side were drawn into Group A alongside Italy, Switzerland and Turkey. Geographical factors will be an added complication for the Welsh, with their matches scheduled for Baku and Rome.

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland could yet qualify – there is a chance they could meet in a winner-takes-all play-off final – and if either was to negotiate the play-offs, they would complete Group E alongside Spain, Sweden and Poland.