Image courtesy of www.rte.ie
Image courtesy of http://www.rte.ie

One of the most talked about issues of Euro 2016 is the new format, with 24 teams qualifying for the tournament compared to the 16 teams who have qualified for previous European Championships. This meant that four teams who finished third in their group were able to qualify for the knockout stages, which has come under criticism because it has meant that some teams have been happy to draw games and be less adventurous in order to ensure that they can get a third place finish. However, the increased number of teams also meant that some teams who otherwise might not have qualified for the tournament were able to qualify, and made a big impact. Teams such as Iceland, Northern Ireland, and Wales may not even have been able to qualify for the finals, but instead they all managed to qualify for the knockout stages.

UEFA have said that they will allow 24 teams to qualify for the next European Championships, but will reconsider the format ahead of future competitions. Personally, I feel that the tournament is better as a spectacle with fewer teams involved because it means that teams must try and attack in order to get wins to put them through the group stages. Also, a smaller tournament means that there are more match ups between higher quality opposition, something that was fairly rare in the Euro 2016 group stages. The only game between two of the more fancied teams in the group stages was Italy against Belgium, and most people would prefer more matches of that magnitude to take place throughout the tournament. Many people feel that the increased number of teams “killed” the group stages, and that the tournament would be far more competitive with only four groups, each of which would have a couple of strong teams in. The downside of this is that it could lead to strong teams being knocked out at the group stage due to being handed very difficult groups, but I would prefer this to seeing strong teams walk all over weak teams and stroll through to the knockout stages.

On the other hand, a reduced format would, in these Championships, have meant that the eventual winners, Portugal, would not have qualified for the knockout stages as they came third in their group. This shows that the format with third placed teams going through does not necessarily mean that weaker teams end up qualifying, as one of the third placed teams managed to win the whole tournament. Also, the qualifying stages can’t be especially easy with the increased number of teams as the Netherlands failed to qualify, along with several other notable nations such as Denmark, and Serbia. This means that the qualifying stages are still very competitive, and that, as UEFA have said, there may be a case for adding even more teams to the tournament in future.

However, the main problem people have with the new format is that many of the games ended up being very low scoring, as teams were happy to sit back in order to get a point. This meant that teams were able to qualify for the knockout stages with three draws, which ended up being the summit of some of the teams’ aims. There were numerous examples of teams simply trying to hold out for 0-0 draws, some of which were successful such as Slovakia holding out for a goalless draw with England, and some of which were unsuccessful such as Northern Ireland falling to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Germany. This made many of the games very tedious to watch and meant that teams which tried to play attractive football were not always rewarded with victories. A prime example of this is Portugal, as they were unable to break down their opponents in the group stage, failing to win a single match, but then adapted to the situation, realising that it was better to “win ugly” than to go home having played nice football but failed to pick up positive results. This led to them playing a far more scrappy style of football on their road to the final, and then winning the final in equally “ugly” circumstances, having won just one match in 90 minutes throughout the tournament. This is the main reason that I feel the format should be changed back to allow fewer teams to qualify for the knockout stages, as it will make playing a good brand of football more rewarding for teams and make matches more enjoyable for spectators.

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