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UEFA's baffling plan to expand the Euro
by Joe Addison, July 1st, 2008 7:01AM
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[EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP] During the final weekend of Euro 2008, the 53 member nations of UEFA, European soccer's governing body, unanimously agreed to expand the European Championship by eight teams, taking the total number of participating countries to 24.

The resolution, which was proposed jointly by the Scottish and Irish Football Associations, is seen as a way to integrate smaller countries into the continent's most important international tournament.

David Collins, secretary for the Welsh Football Association, backed the idea from the beginning.

"Increasing the Championship by eight teams gives the medium and smaller nations which knock on the door, but invariably don't make it, the opportunity of partaking in this major sporting event."

An official decision on the change will not come until late September when the UEFA executive committee convenes in France. Indications point to an acceptance of the proposal, as UEFA president Michel Platini is in favor of the change.

The Frenchman argued, "This will be good for soccer. I'm not afraid that the quality will suffer from the expansion. Countries such as England, Denmark, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium, Serbia, Ukraine and Bulgaria all have the abilities to participate. Would that enhance the quality of the Euro? Yes, I believe so."

The impending change is somewhat baffling, especially considering the high quality of play during Euro 2008. An expanded field would dilute the overall quality of the tournament. But more importantly, the proposed expansion would create a very awkward group stage setup not seen since the 1994 World Cup.

The top two finishers in each of the six groups would qualify for the knockout stages. The four best third-place finishers would also progress. So in a tournament of 24 teams, only eight would be knocked out after the group stages. Under this format, teams that win only one game could progress to the knockout rounds. One win over a poor group opponent hardly seems worthy of a place in the knockout stages in a major international tournament.

One further problem could also be a lack of competitive games during the group stage. Instead of the do-or-die situations seen in these Euros -- for example, Turkey vs. Czech Republic, Sweden vs. Russia -- some teams may be content to play out listless draws, knowing that such results could quite comfortably put them into the knockout round.

Certainly money is one of the main forces behind the proposed change. A longer tournament involving more teams would bring in larger commercial revenues, thus providing a larger windfall for participating countries.

The European Championships has a history of expansion. The inaugural tournament in 1960 featured four teams. In 1976, the field expanded to eight and in 1996 it expanded again to its current size of 16.

If the resolution does pass at UEFA's September meeting, the changes will go into effect for the 2016 European Championship.


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