Expect to see nations such as Macedonia prominent at future Euro championships.

by Liam McConville

As the current European Championships continue to provide excitement and great drama I cannot help but look forward to what we can expect from future tournaments. This is because this is the last time we will see the Euro’s in its current format. In 2016, UEFA in their infinite wisdom, have decided to increase the amount of teams competing in the tournament to twenty-four.

This means that the total matches in the tournament will leap up from thirty-one to fifty-one. There will be six groups made up of four teams with sixteen teams progressing to the knockout stages. UEFA are still yet to decide on the exact format of the tournament (but they have confirmed that sixteen teams will progress to the knockout stages), however it seems likely that UEFA will use the same format as the World Cups between 1986 and 1994. This would mean that the top two sides from each group would qualify along with the four best third placed teams.

Immediately it is easy to see that there are several flaws with this potential format. Three teams progressing from four out of the six groups is likely to encourage negative, defensive football. Three draws could see a side comfortably qualify and I believe that many of the weaker nations will set up looking to stifle, dragging down the quality of football on display. There will also be a significant advantage to the teams who play the latter group games. They will know what is required to land the best placed spots and will surely respond accordingly.

Another negative of the expansion to the tournament is that it is likely to lead to a number of dead rubbers in the final group games. Dead rubbers will also surely be a problem in qualifying as almost half (23 from 52 competing) of the European nations will reach the tournament. This could be a positive for some of the home nation’s sides, who have been knocking on the door of qualifying for a tournament. The Republic of Ireland will surely benefit too from the new expanded format.

Neutrals will be disappointed that there is unlikely to ever be another ‘group of death’, certainly not one as challenging as Group B in this year’s tournament. Here four of the top ten ranked nations in the world compete in a frighteningly strong group, from now on we can expect the likes of Georgia and Armenia to be regularly qualifying for Europe’s premier international tournament.

There was already controversy when France was awarded the right to host the tournament. Turkey was outraged that they were overlooked by a nation that has already hosted two previous European Championships and the World Cup in 1998. France may well have been seen as the safe option with concerns around current hosts Poland and Ukraine when the bidding process concluded in 2010.

Michel Platini has done some good for European football with the new financial fair play rules (as long as he follows through on his threat to penalise sides who flaunt the new rules). However this move will surely lead to more negatives than positives. The Euros are a great tournament because it is so competitive, a testing environment where every team faces a real challenge just to get out of the group.

A twenty-four team tournament is bloated, unnecessary and most likely a decision driven by money. Greed should not be the main factor when it comes to running international football but time after time, this appears to be the case. UEFA will enjoy the extra money that additional games will bring but the real question is, will it be to detrimental to the tournament?

As this current tournament continues at pace, UEFA have some big decisions to make when they finally decide on the new format. There appears to be no chance of a U-turn from Europe’s governing body, but as far I am concerned if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Hopefully I’ll be proven wrong and this great tournament will go from strength to strength with the new changes, however I seriously doubt it. Your move UEFA.