With the 2016 Quals now underway, and a new qualifying system in place, It has disappointed me greatly that it has been expanded to 24 teams. It means that 23 of the 53 teams in the process will go to France in a little under 2 years time – top 2 from each group, plus a best 3rd place followed by a playoff. This also means that some poor teams will get into the competition – and quantity will outweigh quality.
When, say in 2000 or 2004, a minnow like Slovenia or Latvia should make it through, it’s through hard graft and is deserved. Now, a lot of smaller teams will enter and the quality of the tournament will be watered down – it will be like the World Cup with many pointless mis-matches, like you get in Qualifying. The quals process to begin with is pointless – we wrote a piece in November of last year stating that the worst 8/9 teams should drop out and go through a qualifying process of their own to determine the best four, meaning the group stages will be cut by one group and many droll games where the likes of San Marino, who in the last 3 qualifying stages have played 30, lost 30 and conceded 154, scoring 2, will face teams they have a better chance of doing well. Rather than Luxembourg, San Marino, Cyprus etc lose by many goals every game, facing each other may aid their development
If we take a look at the groups, you will see the problems…
Group A – Holland will no doubt qualify, with Turkey or Czech’s taking the 2nd spot. There is then the chance Latvia could get 3rd as they can be decent – who have qualified once in the past god knows how long!
Group B – Belgium and Bosnia will qualify in the top 2, with Israel or Wales taking the 3rd spot – 2 more who have not qualified in years.
Group C – Spain and Ukraine are the two likely to progress, with Slovakia or Belarus vying for 3rd.
Group D – Germany are likely to end with 10 wins from 10, and then you have Poland who will probably finish 2nd, with Ireland 3rd. Gibraltor, in their first ever qualifying stage, will end bottom and concede around 40-50 goals, no doubt. They started off with 7 against Poland last night.
Group E – England and Switzerland will finish top 2, and after that its between Estonia and Slovenia for 3rd. Lithuania and San Marino have no chance.
Group F – This group could go anywhere. Greece, Romania, Hungary, Finland, N Ireland and Faroe Islands make up the 6 (the latter won’t qualify) but having any of those three in the main group stage at the Euro will make a dull spectacle.
Group G – Another interesting group. Austria, Sweden, Russia and Monetenegro make for what could be a close fought group. Would back Russia and maybe Austria – Sweden may have Zlatan but bar that they are poor.
Group H – Italy and Croatia are basically assured of a place, then you have Bulgaria and Norway fighting for 3rd
Group I – Portugal should be favourites, although they lost to Albania last night. Denmark and Serbia should be in the top 3, although in this group of 5 it could be interesting.
So there are about 15 teams there who know they will be there, even if they have a stinker of a qualification. Yes, it does give some of the smaller nations the chance to get to a big competition, but the quality will suffer. Euro 2000 was the best competition (Euro wise…) in living memory. Greece won in 2004, which was a defensive tournament. 16 was the sweetspot – 4 groups of 4, loads of quality and the chance, like in 2008, the likes of England do not qualify.
What Platini has done is criminal. Worst case scenario – the likes of Estonia, Wales. Latvia, Albania or even Finland or Hungary could get in – yes its nice to see teams get a chance but when it demeans the quality of a competition is it really worth it?
A 16 team competition ensures the qualification process is a tight, nervy affair for all concerned. Put together 2/3 teams who usually qualify, or expect to – and it makes the 18 months leading up to the main show interesting, and every point counts. Now, bar 2/3 games where the top teams face off, most games will mean nothing. Michel Platini – you have spoiled the Euro’s!