If European soccer chiefs have learned anything from the past two-and-a-half superb, sublime and thrilling weeks of Euro 2012, it should be that this tournament does not need tampering with.
The Euros, as always, have provided thoroughly entertaining fare, with some of the world’s finest teams slugging it out, albeit in front of some lamentably empty seats due to the governing body’s folly in staging the competition in Poland and Ukraine.
The standard of play has been even higher than expected, with fears that many of Europe’s top players would be burned out by their exhausting club seasons seemingly unfounded.
The entertainment level has been bubbling nicely, with the occasional shock to keep it spicy before a collection of the biggest names flexed their muscles to clinch places in this week’s semifinals.
While the World Cup is rarely immune from criticism – too long, too unwieldy, too many weak teams, too cumbersome to organize, too many anti-climactic games – the Euro tournament is much loved and rightly so.
A field of 16 teams is a ideal number for the European continent, ensuring a high-quality field and early exposure for sides not up to scratch. The Netherlands, for example, World Cup runners-up two years ago, was sent packing in the group stage without mustering a single point.
However, in its infinite wisdom, UEFA – Europe’s governing body – has decided that starting from Euro 2016 (to be staged in France), the field will be expanded to 24.
This will trigger several side effects, none of them good.
First of all, it will eradicate any sense of drama or interest in the qualifying competition, which will now become a drawn-out, two-year affair that will prove absolutely nothing. As things stood previously, it was rare to see a major nation fail to qualify for the Euros, needing a collapse of epic proportions – like that suffered by England in 2008 – to miss out.
This year, 2008 semifinalist Turkey was the only nation of real note not to take its place at the championships, paying a perfectly fair price for a dismal qualifying effort.
With 24 spots up for grabs, it won’t just be that the top teams will make it – they will barely have to do anything to earn it.
Then, in the tournament itself, there will be a significant dilution of quality. Add eight extra teams and the overall strength is naturally affected. Mouthwatering match-ups like this year's Group B (the “Group of Death”) featuring Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark? A thing of the past as more groups will mean more seeded teams.
While it will be nice for some of the additional teams – Bosnia-Herzegovina, Estonia, Armenia, Montenegro and Israel would likely have joined an extended field – they really wouldn't have added to the spectacle of the show.
Including 24 sides creates another problem: It means the third-place finisher in four of the six groups will reach the knockout stage, hardly ideal in an event that is meant to reward success. It will also open up the unedifying possibility of collusion between teams to ensure both qualify.
The extra knockout round would also add an additional layer to the tournament, making it longer by between three and five days, a serious issue with player fatigue already a factor.
UEFA president Michel Platini is a man who rarely admits he is wrong, so it is unthinkable that there will be any backtracking on this. The proposal has long since been approved in the works and too much money is at stake for it to change.
Yet more does not always mean better, never more apparent than here, where UEFA is taking a special competition and watering it down in the name of greed.
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