Euro 2016 – the bigger the better?

Written by Henry Clark

This year 24 of Europe’s ‘top’ nations competed in Euro 2016 and this Sunday the last two standing sides in Portugal and hosts France will face off for the title. Since 1996 the tournament had been contested by 16 teams. UEFA’s decision to increase the tournament side was schemed by the now-disgraced ex-UEFA chief Michel Platini. Stroke of genius or absolute madness?

Of course in these modern times football is so financially motivated. More teams, means more games, which means more ticket sales and television revenue – from a UEFA point of view what’s not to like? More money to invest back into football, whether that’s at the tournament (in buying some fancy LED lights for the opening ceremony), or in local clubs and communities. But thinking about the dodgy dealings of FIFA and UEFA recently are we really that sure where that money is going to end up?

We’ve recently seen the long arm of the law catch up with some of the governing bodies’ main men over their past misdemeanours. What reassurance can this give to the public that they’re money is being well spent in developing the game they love and not just ending up in the back pocket of some figure of authority?

Many believe that more teams de-value the group stage of the competition that is so often the most exciting part. Goals scored against you can be the difference to getting on the plane home or booking another week at your hotel.

Portugal were placed in (what should’ve been) a relatively easy group as they were joined by Iceland, Hungary and Austria. Three draws meant they finished the group stage on three points in Group F, leaving them third place.

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credit Nazionale Calcio

I’m not convinced that a side that only records three points and finishes third place should qualify for the knockout stages. Where is the excitement in that? They know already that they can just pick up a couple of points here and there and make it through; teams should be rewarded for big victories when it matter. Every single game should be must win for both sides to be able to be successful. This adds to the entertainment factor for fans. I think UEFA have made it too easy to qualify now and in a way it adds a safety net for sides knowing that they don’t necessarily have to win three out of three to progress.

Do more nations reduce the quality of football on show? You could argue yes. Taking in more teams, with more opportunity and chances to qualify could mean a couple of freak results and you qualify, perhaps not on merit of your squad. No one wants to watch teams getting thrashed – where’s the fun in that? Although there were no real examples of this in Euro 2016, except the Hungary and Turkey defeats, the chance of this is most definitely increased for the future.

On the other hand the increased intake of nations has to be seen as a positive as well – countries like Iceland have provided us with so many great moments but despite showing their credentials in wins over England and Portugal, they may not have even made it to the competition with the increased intake.

To miss out on those moments like their screaming commentator and the Viking clap, and I still stand by the fact that no one does that as well as the Icelandic people, would be a real shame. And the fact that 99.9% of their nation, a nation that I have witnessed first-hand that struggles for a half-decent Wi-Fi connection, is amazing. Think of all the children that are now inspired by their own nation’s heroes, not just the Ronaldo’s and Messi’s of the world. They’ll be inspired to go out on the inevitable snowy football pitches and try and shoot like Sigthorsson, not Suarez or Kane.

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credit Nazionale Calcio

Perhaps the game needs stories like this to continue to thrive and grow. Personally, I believe that European tournaments should be the best teams slugging it out to see who the best teams truly are. Having said that some of the best moments in the history of the game are the upsets we’ve seen. Although the new format may benefit UEFA does it really benefit the people who care about the game the most? I’m not so sure.

Should the tournament revert back to 16 teams? Let us know in the comments below!

featured image by Malmont2012