Will bigger mean better for Euro 2016?
There are times when sport, at an international level, could really do with some expansionist tendencies. Yet is it right for Euro 2016 to include eight extra teams?
I suppose, in this apparently environmentally-sustainable-conscious time we humans are living in, I just question whether Michel Platini is right for giving the nod to the eight extra teams in European football’s major event.
Please don’t get me wrong. I think the Euro Cup is a terrific tournament and a great showcase for football. But is it the most prudent decision to feel the need to expand it, particularly at this point in time when economic pressure is weighing heavily on multiple UEFA member states?
That will be eight extra teams’ worth of transport – to and from the host nation and between venues. Eight extra teams’ worth of supporters.
The Russian Football Union has already been handed a potential six-point deduction before the qualifying round for the 2016 event even starts, following crowd disturbances at the side’s group A match against the Czech Republic in the Polish city of Wroclaw.
Meaning eight extra teams’ worth of security – meaning more money would need to be spent on local policing for just a single-month event.
Eight extra teams’ worth of diluted quality – giving underdogs a go is fantastic, but if the likes of the Dutch (cough!) are unable to fight their way out of a group in a 16-team tournament, how would other nations go if they join a 24-team Euro cup?
And, judging by the reaction of Holland striker Arjen Robben to his 83rd-minute substitution against Germany last week, eight extra teams’ worth of potentially petulant players.
Eight more teams’ worth of opportunity for the goal-line officials – or whatever technological gizmo is in vogue by then – to get something wrong and leave the fans in the stands and armchairs alike aghast at how such a blunder could ever be allowed at this level.
England and France would have probably qualified from group D regardless of the result on Tuesday, but again there was a side denied a clear goal, live on television in front of an audience of millions.
There is definitely just something so neat and compact about the way it is now. Sixteen teams, four groups of four, straight quarter and semi knockouts and a final. And – mercifully – no third-place play-off. At least UEFA has left well alone and not added that inconsequential blip to the schedule in 2016.
Then there’s the format quibbles. It’s back to the messy World Cup structure of the 1980s and early 90s – 24 teams in six groups of four, then somehow, through supercomputer calculatory systems, squeezing that down to 16 in a cumbersome and clumsily-arranged second round. Then quarters, semis and a final.
And if nearly 50 per cent of the continent can now get in on the fun, what’s the point of holding qualifying matches? Why not just pick it on a FIFA/UEFA ranking equation and be done with it?
It’s worth noting the statistical side of all this. Extrapolating the percentage of confederation members that can qualify in a continental tournament produces some interesting results. Perhaps surprisingly, the African Cup is even harder to get into than its Euro equivalent – 16 out of 56 nations, only 28.57 per cent of the continent.
Given that the Euros will become bloated in four years’ time, some fans might start following the African edition even more if compressed quality over a month-long tournament is still what they’re after.
The Copa America – the world’s oldest such tournament – for South American sides may be a unique and special case – where all 10 member nations compete, plus two invitational opponents as well.
If the Euros can expand, why not a combined Americas Championship – the North, Central and South American teams would all together match UEFA’s membership, how about pooling the best 16 teams from that lot every four years?
But I digress (slightly).
When Euro 2016 increases in size, it will become the third-easiest to qualify for and therefore also the third-most representative tournament of its kind.
Of course, then there’s Platini. Conveniently, he’s French. France was pulled from the hat back in May as 2016 host, by a Frenchman, no less. And amid some controversy, too, apparently. More political football, of the literal kind, as they say.
But France it will be – getting to stage the largest Euro tournament to date.
The decision to expand the tournament was taken in September 2008 – at a meeting in…you guessed it. Bordeaux. Hmmm.
“I’m sure that it will not change the technical level,” Platini said at the time.
“In addition to the 16 [current] qualifiers, there are eight other teams just as good.”
Yet, according to a FOX Sports online report via the Associated Press on June 18 this year, Platini virtually acknowledged the reverse – that the next edition of the tournament would have a “less dramatic” group stage.
He then told Eurosport online that there would be “no problem of quality” with more teams.
Which one is it? If even the confederation’s own manager seems confused about the merit of the expansion, where does that leave the fans?
“It’s very important for the [additional] countries that qualify,” Platini added.
“It is good for the national associations and their development.”
“The sponsors are present because they are proud to participate…more games in more stadiums, which leads to better investment,” said Platini.
The French hosted the first expansion of the World Cup from 24 to 32 teams, so accommodating the increase, stadium-wise, shouldn’t be difficult. And they will use just one venue more than the Poland/Ukraine edition.
It has previously welcomed the Euro tournament to France in 1984 – and won. It’s most recent World Cup hosting was in 1998 – and it won. And this year’s side seem to be playing with a bit of freedom and a lack of expectation for the first time in a while.
What chance to make it three major titles in just over 20 years are Laurent Blanc’s Les Bleus stay fit?
The French will use nine venues. Seventeen were used for the first 24-team World Cup held in Spain in 1982. Eleven were used four years later at Mexico ’86. It briefly returned to 12 at Italia 90, back to nine at USA ’94. At least someone has learned how to down-size something somewhere.
Percentage of Member Nations in International Tournaments (As of June 2012)
Fifa Nations – 209
World Cup – 32
Percentage that qualify: 15.31%
African Nations – 56
African Cup of Nations – 16
North/Central America Nations – 40
CONCACAF Gold Cup – 12
UEFA Nations – 53
Euro Cup – 16 (In 2012)
Asian Nations – 47
Asian Cup – 16
Oceania Nations – 14
Oceania Cup – 11
South America Nations – 10
Copa America – 12 (10 Plus Two Invitational)
Percentage – 100%+
UEFA Nations – 53
Euro Cup – 24 (in 2016)
Percentage – 45.28%