Four years & eight more teams later,Euro may not be the same

UEFA boss Platini defends decision to make EURO 2016 a 24-nation event

Written by Reuters | Gdansk | Published:June 20, 2012 12:09 am

Twenty two matches in and with the group-phase jostling almost complete,Euro 2012 organisers can justifiably claim that it has more than lived up to its pre-tournament billing. All the groups have been tightly-contested,there have been many enthralling matches and only been one real thrashing and as fans of Spain and Germany would testify,the fingernails have taken a battering.

Things might not be quite as exciting in four years time,however,with UEFA going against the ‘if it’s not broken don’t fix it’ mantra by swelling the tournament to 24 teams. The decision,justified by UEFA president Michel Platini on Monday,may come back to haunt them.

The beauty of Euro 2012,as it was at the tournament four years ago in Austria and Switzerland,is that every match has mattered with the outcome of groups still being on a knife-edge in stoppage time of the final games. Both the pre-tournament favourites,Spain and Germany,survived to reach the quarter-finals,but they could just as easily been knocked out as final group games against Croatia and Denmark respectively went to the wire.

Others were not so lucky. Russia were knocked out despite a thrilling performance in their demolition of the Czech Republic,a shock defeat by outsiders Greece sealing their fate.

Whether or not Spain go on to retain the trophy,fans around the world can be satisfied that it is the creme de la creme of the continent’s talent they are watching. Such was the quality of the four groups that there has been little room for error with even the top sides sweating on reaching the business end of the event.

Best to enjoy it while it last,however.

France 2016 will no longer be such a lean tournament and some nations will arrive to make up the numbers. An obsession with super-sizing threatens to turn the tournament form haute cuisine to junk food,with dead fixtures involving the likes of teams like Montenegro and Estonia,both of whom would have probably qualified for Euro 2012 had it been a 24-team competition.

The tournament format has not been decided but it is likely there will be six groups of four,followed by a first knockout round of 16 and it would take a monumentally poor effort by the fancied nations not to survive the groups.

The group phase will be a 36-match marathon at the end of which only eight teams will head home. In all 51 matches will be needed to decide the champs.

Platini defended the decision this week,suggesting that the European football had enough depth in quality. “We can have eight more teams as good as the rest,and also have a fantastic round of 16,he claimed. It’s very important for the (additional) countries that qualify. It is good for the national associations and their development.”

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