Euro Football 2016 will be the first European Championship to include 24 nations.
The tournament expanded from 16 teams four years ago, when Spain emerged a victors at Poland & Ukraine 2012.
That was a thrilling competition, mirroring Euro 2008 in Switzerland and Austria for its high-intensity football and drama.
Bet in play football fans are already looking forward to this summer’s sporting bonanza, with three games a day for a fortnight and plenty more after that! But is the 24-team format a good thing or should UEFA have stuck with the previous system, which many believe retains the high level of competition this tournament is famous for?
Here, we take a look at the new structure.
Decision to grow Euro Football 2016 to 24 teams
The decision to expand the European Championship to 24 teams was cooked up by former UEFA president Michel Platini. The Frenchman claimed the Scottish and Irish FAs first suggested the idea in 2007 and at UEFA’s 2009 congress in Copenhagen it was passed.
Platini endured heavy criticism for the move, which was seen as trying to profiteer from the month of football. The Euros has for years been seen as a more intimate tournament than the World Championsip, where 32 nations compete for football’s ultimate crown.
There are concerns we will lose that intimacy with eight extra teams competing this summer. Unfortunately for Platini, he won’t even be there to oversee its success or failure. He was banned from UEFA and lost his presidency last December amid allegations he is involved in the ongoing FIFA corruption scandal.
Factors that fuelled the expansion decision
Money. If Platini’s claims that Scottish and Irish FAs wanted in on the European Championship are true then you can hardly blame them or UEFA for pushing for expansion. Twenty-four teams means 51 games will be played across France’s 10 host stadiums. Compare that to the 31 games under the 16-team format and suddenly you’ve almost doubled the size of your tournament. And that generates more revenue from ticket sales, TV rights and commercial deals.
Increasing the tournament size also boosts UEFA’s political strength across the world, with more interested parties likely to get access to games and venues during the tournament. Football is now a global sport and UEFA, wary of heavy investment from China and the USA, needs their home tournament to be as big as possible.
The prize money has been significantly increased, from €196 million distributed at Euro 2012 to €301m in France this summer. It is believed around €1.6billion has already been spent — mostly by local governments — to get France’s infrastructure and stadiums ready for the tournament. The country will expect a significant economic impact to come from this spending.
The 24-team format explained
Twenty nations qualified automatically for Euro Football 2016. The top two in each of the nine Euro qualifying groups made the cup, along with best third-place side Turkey and hosts France, who automatically went into the pot.
Four further nations, Ukraine, Sweden, Ireland and Hungary, made it through a playoff round to secure progression to this summer’s tournament.
And this is where it gets tricky. There are six groups at Euro Football 2016, in which the top two in each group automatically qualify for the last-16 stage. However, the four best third-place teams also go through, so you’re more likely to progress than not.
UEFA have devised a complicated but supposedly fair way of allocating last-16 fixtures and we won’t know which third-place teams will play a first-place side until all the group games are completed. Effectively, each group winner stands to play either a second-place team or one of three third-place teams.
UEFA have already plotted all the possible outcomes. So if ,for example, the four best third-place teams come from groups A, B, C and D then the winner of Group A will play the Group C’s third team. In reality it’s best not to think about it too much and let the boffins work it out!
Once the last-16 fixtures are arranged it’s a straight knockout to the final, with 30 minutes of extra time and then a penalty shootout required if the scores remain even (FIFA scrapped the Golden Goal and Silver Goal rules in 2004).
Route to Euro Football 2016 Final
To reach the final you must first escape your group — and that will likely mean picking up a minimum of four points. Two wins and a draw is good form, one win and two draws should see you through as a best third-place side.
Assuming you avoid the big boys like Germany, Spain and France then you should be optimistic of making the quarter-finals. The last-16 stage of Euro Football 2016 is one that could come under heavy criticism if the matches are uncompetitive (due to the tournament expansion to 24 teams).
Bypass that and you're into the quarter-finals. France, Germany and Spain are all expected to reach the semi-finals, so let’s hope you avoid those guys in the last-eight. If you make it to the semis then brand your efforts a success. You’ll need endurance, technical quality and sheer grit to get into the final.
Criticisms of 24-team format
The main problem many punters and pundits have with the 24-team format is that it supposedly lessens the competition. Allowing eight ‘weaker’ nations to qualify for the finals means there is a greater likelihood for one-sided matches. So you may see 1X2 odds that are very uneven in the group stage.
The beauty of a 16-team Championship was that it was straightforward, simple and competitive. No one knows how the additional eight nations will affect the quality of football on show, let alone the entertainment value for spectators.
Another problem is UEFA now have built a complicated route to the last-16, with only a certain number of third-place nations escaping their groups. Surely it’s unfair to be knocked out on goals scored by a nation not even in your group!
These qualms will likely resolve themselves and UEFA will conduct a thorough review when the dust has settled down. However, they are unlikely to downsize after expanding and FIFA will also be watching closely. If the expansion works then FIFA may push for a 40-team World Championsip, which could prove a struggle for host nations to afford in the near future.View market