As the group stages of Euro 2020+1 come to their close, it surely must bring the idiocy of the Euros featuring 24 team tournaments to an end too. Two weeks worth of football just to euthanise eight no hopers, it’s not exactly merciful is it?
By Dave Bowler
When you go into a competition and the odds of coming through it are 2:1 in your favour, it ceases to be competition by any sensible measure. More than that, the measure of “best” third placed side being judged by points accumulation is barely intelligible either.
Just because a third placed team might get more points in a group of also rans than one in a “group of death”, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve had a better competition and are more worthy of advancement. Maybe they should have judges in to rule which third place sides are best. No, maybe not. Simon Cowell might get involved.
But that is merely one of the stupidities surrounding the 24 team tournament, the worst of which, as noted, is the way in which it reduces what should be elite competition to banality in its early stages.
But with Europe seemingly perpetually fracturing into more and more smaller nations, the call to give more of them a chance at a championships will only get louder, because everybody wants their moment in the spotlight and the huge wads of cash that come with it. Thankfully, First Touch might just have a solution for UEFA…
In the spirit of the Europa League and its new little brother the Europa Conference League, when it comes to 2024, why don’t we have the Euros and the Euros Conference? The elite 16 teams qualify for the top line Euros, giving it a proper structure without all the pointless fixtures – and weary players at season’s end who do get to the final do so by play a game fewer, which must be good for player welfare.
Meanwhile, in the Euros Conference, the next 16 best qualifiers meet in their own competition, pitted against sides of their own level. This would make for better games, more tightly fought, without sides being there just to make up the numbers.
There are plenty of advantages, not least the way in which sides who rarely qualify for the major tournaments would actually get some exposure to proper tournament football. That can only be good experience and might make them more competitive by the time they get round to the next round of qualifiers for major competition.
It makes life a little easier for UEFA too in that they have two competitions to award to host nations rather than one. So while Spain might be hosting the Euros for instance, the Euros Conference could be played out in Romania and Slovenia as joint hosts. It spreads the gospel and provides financial backing to improve facilities in nations where UEFA might not otherwise choose to tread.
There’s an opportunity to create an unprecedented feast of football across the continent too, because if you stagger the tournaments, such that the Conference starts perhaps eight days earlier and the Euros finishes a similar period later, you are increasing the amount of football to be played.
From the 51 games that will be played this summer, you go up to 62 games, games which should be more tightly fought in the group stage, of higher intensity and better quality. And, of course, 11 more games means 11 more highly lucrative TV slots to be filled which is always to the liking of UEFA and the associations.
And if you do all that, you can probably make the Nations League redundant to boot. Bonus.
Dave Bowler is the author of “The Magic of the Cup 1973/74”, telling the story of Liverpool’s FA Cup win in 1974. Available here: https://www.curtis-sport.com/books –
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