In 2016, the European Championship – as voted for and approved by all of UEFA’s 53 member nations – will expand from a 16 team competition to 24 teams. This will mean that t half of UEFA’s members will be taking part in four years time in France. So, perhaps it is fitting that Euro 2012 is shaping up to be one of the most exciting major tournaments that we have seen in recent years?
At the time of writing (UPDATE: Spain-Ireland, 14 games have been played, 39 goals have been scored in those games, that is an average of 2.78 goals per-game, every one of the 16 teams taking part have scored, only 3 clean sheets have been kept – by Germany, Denmark and Spain – and not a dead rubber, damp squib, 0-0 in sight. That has perhaps been the biggest criticism of the World Cup, with the larger format and 32 teams taking part is that there is more room for mind-numbing 0-0’s or spectacular thrashings of lesser-nations, particularly in the group stages.
How the European Championships have expanded over the years?
1976: – 4 teams
1980: – 8 teams
1996: – 16 teams
2016: – 24 teams
It seems that even that very format for the expanded Euro 2016 hasn’t been thought out well by UEFA. We will have six groups of four with the top two out of those qualifying for the round of 16 along with four of the best sides that have finished third in their group (this happened at the 1986, 1990 and 1994 World Cups). General Secretary of UEFA, Gianni Infantino admitted that this is “not ideal”. Infantino said: “It is 24 teams and that is a problem – it is not an ideal final tournament because you will have to have a few of the third ones who qualify as well [for the knockout stage].” Much as they try to avoid it, could we see nations (particularly neighbouring ones) playing out draw in order for each to qualify?
While this summer’s tournament in Poland-Ukraine is certainly a battle between Europe’s elite nations with just three of the 16 nations taking part being ranked outside the top 20 of FIFA’s World Rankings, those are Czech Republic (27) and the co-hosts of the tournament Poland (62) and Ukraine (52), it is the middle-ranked and lesser nations that will likely benefit from the changes for Euro 2016 and have the opportunity to take part in a major tournament.
Perhaps the triumph of rank outsides like Greece in 2004 and Denmark in 1992, who weren’t even meant to be in the competition, will be just another part of European Championship history. It would be churlish to suggest that we will never see an outsider win the competition again; it certainly would become more impossible.
With 19 games still to be played at Euro 2012, let’s savour the format as we know it? And, here’s to no 0-0’s!