NEWS
10/12/2011 08:24 EDT | Updated 12/12/2011 05:12 EST

UEFA seeds Portugal, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ireland in 8-nation Euro 2012 playoffs draw

GENEVA - Portugal will be seeded with Croatia, Czech Republic and Ireland when UEFA conducts the draw for the 2012 European Championship playoffs on Thursday.

The four higher-ranked teams will face Euro 2008 semifinalist Turkey and three countries — Bosnia-Herzegovina, Estonia and Montenegro — which have never reached a major finals tournament.

UEFA confirmed the seedings of the group runners-up 24 hours ahead of conducting the draw in Krakow, Poland (1100 GMT).

UEFA based rankings on qualifying and tournament results for Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.

First-leg matches will be played Nov. 11 or 12. Return games are scheduled Nov. 15.

Winners will advance to the June 8-July 1 tournament co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine, which is the last before the European Championship is expanded from 16 to 24 teams.

Portugal and its superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo were consigned to the playoffs after losing 2-1 to Denmark in a decisive group match on Tuesday.

They could again meet Bosnia, two years after edging a World Cup playoff with a pair of nervy 1-0 victories.

Bosnia has reached the Euro 2012 playoffs despite almost being kicked out of the tournament while suspended by FIFA and UEFA during April and May.

The governing bodies forced Bosnia to stop running its federation in a three-way ethnic divide which mirrored the difficult political situation in the former Yugoslav republic.

Ireland returns to a major playoff two years after a controversial World Cup defeat by France, which needed a goal assisted by Thierry Henry's notorious handball to progress to South Africa.

This time Ireland is seeded and favoured to progress to its first tournament since the 2002 World Cup.

Turkey, coached by Dutch great Guus Hiddink who led Russia to the 2008 semifinals, will be viewed as the unseeded opponent to avoid.

The Turks made a dramatic run to the Euro 2008 semifinals after getting two late goals in a 3-2 win over the Czechs to advance from their group.

However, a trio of underdogs who gained football independence after the fall of communism will sense history beckoning them.

Montenegro is ranked 35th in UEFA's 53-nation standings despite not being allowed to enter Euro 2008.

After splitting with Serbia in 2006, Montenegro was recognized as the 208th and newest member of world football's family too late to take part.

Montenegro earned home and away draws with England while finishing second in a group that included tournament regulars Switzerland.

Estonia failed in two attempts to qualify for the World Cup in the 1930s, then regained football status in 1992 after breaking from the Soviet Union.

The Baltic republic is the lowest-ranked team remaining at No. 37 in UEFA's European standings.

Meanwhile, UEFA's table suggests No. 12 France will again be in the fourth-seeded pot when the finals tournament draw is made Dec. 2 in Kyiv.

Poland and Ukraine are ranked lower but are assured of top-seeded status as co-hosts, and playoff candidates Croatia and Portugal are both ranked higher than the French.

At Euro 2008, France's fourth-seeded status landed it in a tough group with the Netherlands, Italy and Romania, and coach Raymond Domenech's side exited without winning a match.

Spain, the defending champion, and the Netherlands also will be top seeds.