People would have thought more games, more goals when it was confirmed the Euro’s would expand to 24 teams. It would also give more European national teams a chance to get tournament experience, but is it making a difference to Euro 2016?
Euro 2016 qualifying started off with 53 teams as they all competed for 23 places in the competition. With eight extra places to play for compared to the previous European Championship, this should have been more than enough motivation for teams to make it to France.
For the first time in qualifying, all second place teams were guaranteed a place in the finals which automatically took away the competition of wanting to finish top to guarantee a place. Third place teams also got to qualify with the best one going straight through and the rest going into a two-legged play off against another third place team.
Of the 24 teams in the Euro’s, five of them were making their tournament debuts which emphasised the advantage of it being a bigger tournament. The debut teams however didn’t scrap through to the finals as none of them finished third in their respective qualifying groups. Northern Ireland impressively won group F in qualifying with Norwich City striker Kyle Lafferty scoring seven goals in the process.
In the tournament itself with four of the six third place teams going through to the knockout stage, it also added a number of possibilities as to who could play who in the next round. Take England for example, going into the final round of games in group F, they could have played any of the four teams in that group in the next round.
Another addition to the excitement were the less experienced tournament teams getting a golden opportunity to get to the knockout stage with Iceland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Slovakia all making it through.
On the other hand with more teams getting through the group stage, it meant that the less performing teams could still get through whereas in previous tournaments they would not get away with it and exit the competition.
Since Euro 96 when the tournament first expanded to 16 teams, no team has qualified from the group stage with fewer than 4 points. Already in Euro 2016 both Portugal and Northern Ireland have gotten through to the next round with three points, with the latter losing two of their three group matches.
There were pros and cons to the performances with teams aiming for third spot such as when Slovakia went very defensively to hold off England to draw 0-0 which guaranteed them a place in the next round. On the other hand Ireland pulled off a brilliant 1-0 win against Italy with positive attacking football to get through the group stage.
I think that expanding the amount of teams was a good idea by UEFA, but they could have come up with a solution so that third place teams in the group couldn’t go through to the next round. This would make sure that it sticks with the more conventional group stage progression in tournaments.
Images sourced from: www.netivist.org and www.goal.com