It’s official. The world (or at least Europe) has gone mad. Euro 2020 will take place in several different countries and I give the news my ‘Worst Idea of December 2012’ award. So far.
For years, the format was a simple one, one that mirrored the FIFA World Cup. Every four years, one chosen nation (or two in recent times, we’ll come to that) would shoulder the responsibility of hosting the world’s second biggest international football competition, inviting the top sixteen nations (in theory) in Europe to compete. All the players in one place, all the fans in one place. One team automatically qualifies and holds the home advantage, a neat reward for footing the bill for the prestigious occasion. Everyone’s happy, job’s a good’un.
Naturally, UEFA see fit to change a good thing. The plan, formulated around the time of the Euro 2012 Final, suggests that the competition would be spread across multiple host countries. Instead of camping out in one country, international teams now have to travel between matches to their next destination.
I’d like someone to tell me, then, what the difference is between the Euro finals, which would involve travelling from country to country, and the qualifying round, which involves travelling from country to country. Of course, the major flaw in that piece of hyperbole is that one of the two teams in a qualifying match is playing at their home stadium in front of their home fans. I assume that UEFA will have some sort of a way to stop a country playing within their own borders. All well and good early on, but what happens when you reach the semis, or the final. Select Wembley to host the final and suddenly England would have an extreme advantage when it comes to fighting for the trophy. Then again, England being in a major final is quite a flight of fancy.
One of the counters to my argument that’s been rolled out is that it gives minor countries that would never have the chance to host the Euros an opportunity to host at least one match. All very nice. Opposing that is the suggestion that half of the expanded 24 teams would be seeded (the top 12 qualified in the world rankings), with two in each group getting the chance to host. With that leading the way for the powerhouses of Spain, Italy, Russia and France to get the games, it’s not exactly opening doors for minnows like Wales and Norway, right? On the upside, the likes of Belgium and the Czech Republic are ranked highly, so visits to Brussels and Prague would be nice.
The inherent problem in planning a globetrotting getaway is the cost for the fans. It’s bad enough for the die-hard supporters to follow their team to Poland and Ukraine and it sure ain’t cheap. How is the idea of travelling to three group games and a possible three knockout matches a good solution? The only measure I could be happy with is having each group be based in one country and two cities or stadia, but that doesn’t look likely.
One can only hope that Sepp Blatter doesn’t prick his ears up at this shocking decision and do the same for the World Cup. Trekking across Europe is one thing, but can you imagine holding group games in Cameroon before jetting off to a second round match in China? Hopefully, the Olympics are safe; barring a few extenuating circumstances in the past, I’m pretty sure we won’t be seeing Team GB’s hockey team competing in Switzerland whilst the likes of Mo Farah do the 10K down the California coast. Still, let’s not give these people any ideas…