Every fan should have watched every game so far at the European Championship, if only because this is likely to be the last time they will have it this good.
Euro 2012 will continue on its sparkling, merry way for another week and then some. But this will be the last one played under the tight 16-team format that has delivered a big punch every day, with many of the best teams in the world playing each other in meaningful matches throughout the group stage.
Next time around, at France in 2016, there will be 24 teams, diluting the quality, adding games and complicating qualification.
This year, from the thrilling opener between Poland and Greece until the controversy-laced group closer between Ukraine and England, the 24 games had great goals, tight results and tense drama right up to the final whistle.
UEFA called the group stage “mouth watering,” and President Michel Platini said that “for myself, I’m very, very, very, very happy.”
So why change?
The simple 16-team tournament has been such a success that everybody wanted in – a practical impossibility.
Since most of the 53 member associations are small nations, too, it was easy to see why the expansion was approved in 2008.
“It is a matter of the democracy,” Platini said.
The drawbacks, however, are obvious.
It will likely be run under the dreaded rules that turned the World Cup from 1986 to 1994 in a bureaucratic challenge only accountants could love.
“It is less dramatic… But then you have a round of 16, it’s… knockout”
UEFA President Michel Platini
Now, it is four groups with the top two finishers in each through to the quarterfinals. And even that can be complicated enough with teams like Italy and Portugal pondering countless possible results and options ahead of their third and decisive group games before going through.
Under a 24-team system, those options multiply since an added second round must arrive at 16 teams. The whole group system will be played to eliminate only eight teams, something that often provided a horrific yawn during the first two weeks of competition for any neutral viewer.
And the tension of seeing teams like Spain and Italy having to fight until the last second to qualify would also largely evaporate since instead of eight, 16 teams would advance.
“It is less dramatic,” Platini said.
“But then you have a round of 16, it’s… knockout.”
Beyond the enjoyment of the television viewer, there is a lot more at stake. And, suddenly, Platini starts using words as “sponsors” and “investment.”
Those criticising the new format say the decision boils down to money. The more nations included, the more profit UEFA stand to make from sponsors. UEFA believe they can sell a 51-match Euro for much more than a 31-match format.
However, it might not be that simply.
If people tire of the tournament before it really begins, then UEFA face another problem.