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Euro expansion will dilute quality
by Ian Plenderleith, September 26th, 2008 10AM
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[EUROPE] More games, more revenue and less quality. That will be the effective consequence of UEFA's decision, expected Friday, to expand the European Championships from 16 to 24 countries, starting with the 2016 tournament.

UEFA's executive committee discussed the matter on the first day of its two-day meeting in Bordeaux Thursday, and Franz Beckenbauer, vice chairman of UEFA's development and technical assistance committee, confirmed that the proposal would be rubber-stamped. "Yes, for sure it's going to be 24 teams," Beckenbauer said, according to the BBC. "The European Championships will not lose any quality by that."

Quite how he can make that judgment that eight years in advance is anybody's guess. Euro 2008 in Switzerland and Austria was generally regarded as the best tournament in soccer terms since the 1984 edition in France, when the tournament consisted of just eight teams. It seems like an ill-thought decision to water it down just a few months later, but all 53 European nations are reportedly in favor.

Unsurprisingly, the countries that didn't qualify for Euro 2008 are hungry for a slice of the revenue. A country like England will see the expansion as insurance against the debacle of its last qualifying campaign. The original proposal came from Scotland and Ireland, neither of whom qualified for Euro 2008, but that represent exactly the kind of soccer nation that would benefit from expansion. Provided, of course, that countries like Belarus, Estonia and Montenegro haven't caught up with them by 2016.

Scotland and Ireland's joint bid to stage Euro 2008 failed, and once the tournament takes in 24 teams they will have no realistic chance of hosting the championship. In fact, only Spain, England, Italy, France, Germany and Russia will likely be able to manage that now, while other countries would have to team up with at least one other nation, possibly two, to launch a joint bid. And even then, as Switzerland and Austria showed, there would be a scarcity of stadiums with a large enough capacity to accommodate the expected demand.

The committee is also due to rule Friday on Ukraine's suitability to co-host the next tournament with Poland, in 2012. The eastern European country is beset with infrastructure problems and political upheaval.

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