Saturday 5 July ~

Remember Euro 2008? Suddenly it all seems so long ago and, worse, unlikely to be repeated if UEFA has its way. Like FIFA in 1970, after one of the most attractive tournaments in its history the European governing body cannot resist wrecking the simple format that produced it. The chief executive of the Scottish FA, Gordon Smith, said the members of UEFA “saw no real disadvantage” in expanding the tournament to 24 teams for 2016 and it would make a lot more money (or, as they teach you to say at chief executive school, “there was no downside in terms of revenue”). For countries such as Scotland and Ireland, who proposed the change, there is an obvious benefit in that they are more likely to qualify. For everyone else, the idea borders on lunacy. Let us count the ways it will damage the competition.

1.Maths. As surely even UEFA has noticed, eight, 16 or 32 teams makes for a simple and fair format. Anything else, such as the 24 at the World Cup between 1982 and 1990, requires cumbersome second-round groups of three teams each, or the manifestly unsatisfactory alternative in which four third-placed teams qualify for the second round. In 1990 that meant two teams, Ireland and the Netherlands, went through from one group without having won a game.

2.Fixture congestion. Smith says more teams would “only add a few extra days” to the competition. In fact it would probably add a week, given that the revenue upside is maximised by not screening matches simultaneously. With clubs and national teams already in a grinding conflict over injuries, fatigue, payments and availability, taking another week out of the summer break seems perverse at best.

3.Quality. You can have bad games in an eight-team tournament (almost anything from 1980 springs to mind) and good ones with 32. But are we really crying out for more matches between Europe’s middle tier nations? Michel Platini says “countries like England, Denmark, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium, Serbia, Ukraine and Bulgaria all have the ability to participate in a European championship”. And you know what Michel? They all have (except Ukraine), and so have Latvia, Slovenia and Norway – but only when they have a good team.

4. Common sense. UEFA has 53 members and, barring the break-up of Germany into its 19th-century patchwork of principalities, is unlikely to get many more. If you can’t get into the top 16 out of 53, you don’t deserve to be in the finals. Isn’t that right Steve?

Mike Ticher

Comments (9)
Comment by G.Man as Trotaconventos 2008-07-05 14:55:37

Eight groups of three teams each would produce a second round of eight (or 16) qualifiers. The 24-teams idea is not made more attractive by that notion, of course.

Comment by Steve Saint 2008-07-05 15:54:05

Was it just me or did anyone else notice that Spain, Holland and Croatia all fielded weakened teams in the final group games- then Holland and Croatia failed to get going in the quarter-finals. This is rather like the Champions League when Man Utd qualify top after game 4 or 5 of 6 they field the likes of Chris Eagles and Darren Fletcher in the final games. The paying punter deserves better.

Comment by chew d 2008-07-06 10:10:52

is it me or do you guys to stick the knife into Scotland at every oppurtunity? why the constant jibes at darren flether? he might not be a man untd class player but he's still a good player. why no mention of the fact that expandin it 24 teams is beneficial to England as well?

Comment by G.Man as Trotaconventos 2008-07-06 10:31:59

Because nobody expects England to qualify even if 24 teams can?

Comment by hobbes 2008-07-06 11:49:03

I'm not sure that's true G.Man. Surely even England couldn't fail to be in the top 24 could they?

It's a good point though. What's the point of a finals if it's not teams of at least a certain quality. A quality that eludes England (and yes, Scotland) right now.

Comment by chew d 2008-07-07 03:30:11

a country the size of England should qualify for a last 8, never mind the final 24! Again, if teams of the likes of Greece, Austria, Switzerland, Romania, Sweeden and Poland are better than Scotland or England then theres something wrong with the system. Its pure luck of the draw, as Scotland found to our expense. If Uefa are finding back door ways to let the likes of Poland and Ukraine, Switzerland and Austria enter the competition then whats wrong with Scotland, or anyone else, bringin the issue up?

ps we drew with Crotia recently, , should've beat the Czech republic with half a team an i would but a bet on Scotland beating England next time they play, so stop sneering, your not as good as you think you are.

Comment by chew d 2008-07-07 03:32:13

sorry if it seems iv got a bit of a chip on my shoulder! but you know, people in glass houses shouldnt throw stones.

Comment by LanguedocFox 2008-07-07 21:14:07

"Should have, could have, would have" is irrelevant. If qualification for, and winning, major international tournaments were based on population, China would win everything hands down.

The reason why England don't/won't qualify for/win major tournaments is because the people who run our game at the highest level know nothing (and I mean, NOTHING) about football. Michel Platini was head honcho in the French FA before he got the Uefa call; Karl-Heinz Rumminege is Germany's top man.

So who have England got making the major decisions? Brian fatarse Barwick is who. Scotland? Gordon "Who the f*** are you" Smith. Ireland? Wales? Who gives a stuff: certainly no-one who ever played even at club level.

The Sweet FA promised a root-and-branch review of the game after MacLaren got the heave-ho. What is needed is deforestation.

Comment by MMick 2008-07-08 13:35:48

The old 'teams must play at least 3 games in a tournament because the players & fans spent 6 weeks on a boat to get there' argument is surely irrelevant in Europe. As mentioned half the last group games at Euro 08 were meaningless anyway.

So 8 X groups of 3 works for me - then quickly into the knock out rounds where all the excitement is anyway.

It would only add a couple of days to the tournament if 2 qualifiers from each group and shorten it if 1.

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