Back in 2007, I scoffed at Euro 2012 being awarded to Ukraine and Poland. I mean, they didn’t have the infrastructure. And Ukraine at least was full of violent ultras. I kept scoffing right up until kick-off. How wrong I was. It turned out that Euro 2012 was the best Euros I have seen in my life. Who can forget the high-scoring matches (4-1, 3-2, 3-1, 4-0, 3-2, 4-2) including the 4-0 final victory by Spain or Spain being the first nation to retain the Henri Delaunay trophy?
It perfected the format. It felt that the Euros had finally come of age.
So I was disgusted that Euro 2016 would expand to 24 teams. I said it would water down the tournament. Third place teams qualifying for the next round? This is as ridiculous as the bloated farce that the Europa League and the Champions League have become. Sure, there are more “countries” than ever in Europe including latterly the likes of Gibraltar, so an expanded format makes sense on the face of it. But of course it’s all about money, not giving a fair chance to all nations. A 24 team tournament always seemed a step too far.
I was delighted to be proven wrong about 2012; I am disappointed to be proven right by 2016. What a turgid affair these Euros were.
Firstly, the idea that a team finishing third in a group should go onto lift the trophy, when they would have been eliminated in every other instantiation of the competition in history, is not the stuff of fairy stories; it’s straight up ridiculous. No offence to Portugal, but drawing all three of your group matches is not what inspires my dreams. Indeed, of Portugal’s seven matches, they only won one in the 90 minutes — their semi-final against Wales!
Portugal’s win exemplified the tournament as a whole; it was a boring win in a boring, lifeless competition. I could barely stay awake during the final.
UEFA talk about how their new format gave us the gems of Wales and Iceland. And it’s true; Wales and Iceland were pretty much the only good things about the tournament. But in all fairness, Wales and Iceland both came second in their qualifying groups and would have ended up qualifying even if there were only sixteen teams in the finals. Indeed, Northern Ireland, another minnow, topped their qualifying group.
The ridiculousness of the current format is exemplified by this graphic: blues qualified, yellows didn’t.
We might as well just go whole hog, dispense with the qualifying campaign, and divide the 53 teams into groups of four (perhaps with an initial pre-qualifying round for the lowest six ranked nations so as to make it an even 48*, or else add another side for 54). Then run it more-or-less like the Champions League. Perhaps with a second group round.
Sounds stupid, but why not?
They’re already moving away from the host nation format with Euro 2020 which will be hosted across Europe. Why not just carry it on. The whole thing can be a
bloated, never-ending, money-making mess exhibition of football at its purest! If UEFA cared about football, there would be sixteen teams in the finals. At a stretch, twenty teams. If we’re really pushing it out, second and third placed teams could play-off (in a 16 or 20 team format) leading to another round before the quarters. But 24 teams? Third place teams going through on draws. No way.
Congratulations to Portugal, but nobody is going to remember this tournament.
*This would also gives us the mini-comp “Champion of the Minnows”, where the likes of San Marino and Gibraltar would duke it out to qualify at all
© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry
images from Wikipedia