UEFA risks messing with winning Euro 2012 formula
NYON, Switzerland (AP) -For many football fans, the more compact European Championship beats the World Cup as modern football's best national team competition.
Still, change is coming to the 16-nation event and some fear the future is not brighter after this year's tournament in Poland and Ukraine when UEFA expands to 24 teams for Euro 2016 in France.
By adding eight more countries and 20 matches, UEFA expects to generate wider national interest and higher commercial revenues.
Six different countries have won the last six editions, including long-shot champions Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004. A further three countries have reached the final in that span.
The World Cup appears predictable in comparison with six different winners since 1970, and only seven countries even reaching the final in those 11 tournaments.
Lining up 16 teams to shoot for the European title in a maximum 24 days has worked well. The top two in each four-team group progress to the quarterfinals.
The tournament bracket has perfect symmetry and pits top teams against each other from the start. A rematch of the 2006 World Cup final between Italy and France was a win-or-go-home group match at Euro 2008.
This year, the Netherlands and Germany will meet on June 13 in their group after being runner-up and third at the 2010 World Cup. Their stellar Group B also has Portugal and Denmark - all top-10 teams in the current FIFA world rankings.
"Teams are relatively evenly matched, and the quality of football tends to be good,'' said David Taylor, UEFA's top commercial official. "It's all very compact and compressed.''
When 24 teams are spread across six groups, more top teams will get a No. 1 seeding and avoid each other. Instead, they will play lower-ranked teams, possibly hurting the quality of the tournament.
FIFA also found the 24-team format unsatisfactory. From 1986-94, the four best third-place teams in the groups progressed to the second round.
At the 1994 World Cup in the United States, the third-place teams advancing - the hosts, Argentina, Belgium and Italy - did so despite not winning their final group match.
UEFA has not finalized its Euro 2016 match schedule, though Taylor said the FIFA format was "tried and tested.''
Taylor helped drive the move to 24 when, as chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, his proposal was backed at the 2007 UEFA Congress. One year later, Taylor was UEFA general secretary when the ruling executive committee voted for expansion.
"Our ultimate objective is to promote football across Europe,'' he said, adding that higher revenues allowed UEFA to increase prize money and pay clubs a bigger share for releasing their players to attend. "Even if something is proven to work, can we make it better?''
Taylor said there was "no better way'' than having more teams involved.
"If your country is not participating, it's very different. It's interesting academically but there's no passion for you,'' he said.
Scotland has not qualified since Euro 1996, when the tournament expanded to 16 teams.
Change could also reward Montenegro and Estonia, who lost in the playoffs for Euro 2012. They have never reached a major tournament since getting independence in the breakup of communist Eastern Europe, which has fueled the expansion.
"We are not just looking for the possibility to participate in the final tournament,'' Estonian football association president Aivar Pohlak said, "but through our development we want to play a certain role, our own role, in European football and to qualify only after we are good enough.''