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Euro 2016 will be quality vs quantity

Uefa has given smaller teams the opportunity to take part in the big event but what happens to the quality on show?

Last updated: 30 Aug 2014 15:37
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More matches for the fans but standard of football? [REUTERS]

So Michel Platini will be staying at Uefa.

Now there's nothing to divert his attention from an important revamp where his Secretary-General Gianni Infantino has been instrumental.

Uefa’s brave new world of international football has arrived. Qualifiers are spread over three consecutive days in September and six consecutive nights of European qualifiers in October. Designed to be a feast of international football that will get more people watching.

Television is a crucial part of this, as it has always been for the hugely successful and influential Champions League. The 54 associations of UEFA are now in this together, with packages being sold, rather than individual associations distributing rights.

Euro 2016

 

Euro 2016 will take place in France from 10 June to 10 July 2016.

The event will contested by 24 teams, having been expanded from the 16-team format

Six groups of four teams each

France have automatically qualified while the other 53 nations will compete for the other 23 spots.

Qualifying will run from September 2014 to November 2015.

This makes perfect sense, giving stability and equality to members and raising the hope that watching qualifiers will become less of a nationalistic experience, enabling more matches to be seen and more narratives across Europe to be followed.

Quality vs quantity

So a treat in store for football fans? Here's the concern and it's a big one.

The plan comes into operation to coincide with a decision that feels misguided: The expansion of the finals from 16 to 24 teams.

Previously, I’ve paid tribute to the 16-team European Championship. In its short 16-year history, it has been the perfect football format, the closest thing football gets to the Ryder Cup in quality and symmetry with no ballast.

Four groups, quarter-finals, semi-final and then the final. But now 24 teams will be able to contest France 2016. Consider some of the nations for whom qualification is a realistic impossibility - and there is a worrying percentage - such as San Marino and Luxembourg and you realise it is becoming harder to fail at qualifying.

I've said for many years that these tiny nations obviously deserve a chance to qualify but they should have to play pre qualifiers. The amount of pointless and embarrassing thrashings handed out to minnows wastes the time of great club players in an already-packed schedule and makes no sense.

Qualification

But this seems further away from UEFA's thinking than ever.

So the curious thing about the 'product' being offered by UEFA is the quality and the drama. Is the quality of matches there to generate and sustain interest? And crucially - and this is my main point - will the tension be removed from qualifying?

I can tell you now that despite their mediocrity at the highest level, England will qualify comfortably. So will others at their level. So imagine how easy it's going to be for Germany. Should it be this predictable?

I admire Platini's clear wish that smaller teams and nations have opportunity where possible - one of the reasons the Champions League qualifying was tweaked - but I remember him being challenged on the 24-team idea before the 2012 final in Ukraine.

Democracy

He talked of the democracy of Uefa and the fact it was the national associations who voted in favour.

Of course they did. Ask a group of schoolchildren to vote on whether they want to be included in an "everyone-gets-a biscuit club" and what kind of response will you get?

Ask 53 (as it was) national associations if they want a spot in the party and do you think they will consider the quality or their potential slice of the pie? It's sad really.

Uefa are not the only organisation that can suffer when apparent democracy is actually self-serving. There are one of two other based in Switzerland I can think of.

Ultimately criticism is futile. The acid test is whether people - in stadiums and on TV - actually watch the qualifying matches.

International football is precious and needs protecting. So I wish them well.
 

This column appears on INSIDEworldfootball.com where Lee Wellings represents Al Jazeera.

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Al Jazeera
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