BASEL, Switzerland – Austria and Switzerland deserve to be hosting the second biggest soccer tournament in the world. Whether they should be playing in it is another matter.
Despite awful weather (rain is hardly the tournament organizers' fault) and stadiums on the smallish side, Euro 2008 has been well-run and has provided a fitting showcase for the continent's finest players.
However, Switzerland was the first team eliminated after only five days, and Austria is hanging by its fingernails heading into the last round of group matches and praying for a miracle against Germany on Monday. If not for a controversial injury-time penalty for Austria's Ivica Vastic against Poland on Thursday night, the co-hosts would be pointless after six hours of combined play.
It begs the question: Should nations ranked so low in the world rankings be given two free passes to an event that has only 16 teams?
Switzerland qualified for the last World Cup but is still ranked only 44th in the world and 26th among European teams. Austria is rooted at No. 92 and 43rd in Europe, just behind those European giants Armenia, Georgia, Albania and Iceland.
Let's be clear about this: None of England, Scotland or Bulgaria, the three highest-rated teams not present at Euro 2008, deserved to qualify. They knew the rules before they started and failed to do what was needed to book their ticket for central Europe. And obviously, the hosts need to be involved in the tournament.
It is admirable that, by combining forces, countries unlikely to be considered to host a World Cup get an opportunity to stage an event such as this, but duo status is in danger of becoming a prerequisite. With Poland and Ukraine scheduled to host Euro 2012, co-hosts have been chosen for three of the last four tournaments. Holland and Belgium shared duties in 2000.
UEFA headquarters are in Switzerland, which is a pleasant place to visit. According to the WorldWide Quality of Living Survey ranking the best places to live in the world, Austria and Switzerland had the top three cities and four of the top 10.
But UEFA has a duty to uphold the quality of play in its international showpiece. This tournament is supposed to display the best talent in Europe. And while the exciting performances of Portugal, Holland and Spain lit up the first week, the fact remains that this field comprises 14 of the best plus two also-rans.
Already the Poland/Ukraine effort is beset by troubles and in danger of being stripped of its staging rights due to stadium problems. Yet the early favorite for a backup plan is for, you guessed it, another sharing situation involving Scotland and Wales. Ugh.
When the UEFA delegates get together in two years to decide the 2016 host, I pray that it goes to a major football nation, with plenty of history, suitable infrastructure and, crucially, the ability to host the thing on its own.
Italy would have been a fine host in 2012, but, sadly, the match-fixing scandal that rocked Italian football in 2006 doomed its ambitions. Hopefully, Italy will try again for 2016 and get the nod to host a major tournament for the first time in 26 years. And if not the Italians, then how about Spain or France or Germany or Russia?
Please, no Scandinavian super alliance or Balkan conglomerate with two or even more teams getting a path straight to the finals. But if recent voting history is anything to go by, maybe we should all start getting ready for a combined tournament hosted by Moldova, Lithuania and Georgia.
At least those teams are all better than Austria.