In the past, playoffs were used to help determine the final qualifiers for the European Championships.
This time, however, qualification for Euro 2008 will be determined solely on group results, as the top two from each of the seven groups automatically qualify for the tournament, and the other two slots go to the joint hosts, Austria and Switzerland.
But, with so many quality teams set to miss out on the competition, it’s time to think about expanding.
The possible expansion of the tournament to 24 teams for 2012 was discussed earlier this year. It was favored by many (including UEFA President Michel Platini, who’s also in favor of expanding the Champions League, which is another story entirely), due to the ever-increasing number of UEFA members, but the proposal was rejected by UEFA’s Executive Committee.
There’s a good chance that this idea will not only come up again soon, but also pass the next time around, and for good reason. While the increase in UEFA members is a big selling point, so is the number of teams who have an argument about deserving a place in the competition.
There are a couple of groups where there isn’t any doubt about who the top two teams are, like Group D with the Czech Republic and Germany, but several of the groups are tight going into the final two matches, and there’s a chance that the likes of yes, the English, and World Cup champions Italy, along with Euro 92 champs Denmark (who’ve participated in the last six tournaments), or a Scotland side that has been excellent in qualifying, could find themselves out in the cold after next Wednesday.
I’m not saying that the competition should be devalued any by allowing mediocre teams in, because that wouldn’t be the case – all of them aforementioned teams could hold their own in the tournament, to say the least.
If the tournament is indeed expanded to 24 teams, there are multiple ways it could effectively take place.
1) Keep the same format as there is right now, with four teams in each group, and each team playing each other once. The six group winners qualify for the quarters, with the two best second-placed teams advancing as well.
This would be much like the Copa America format, where the two best third-placed teams from the three groups advance to the quarters, along with the top two finishers from each group. The only potential roadblocks are some tiebreaking situations that could get a little tricky, and there’s a good chance some teams would feel pretty slighted about doing well and barely missing out on advancing.
2) Change the format to four groups of six. Each team would play five group matches, and the top two in each group would move on to the quarters. The one potential snag in this idea is the added number of matches for every team, which might translate into having to start the championships a week or so earlier, or extending them a week or so further.
And then, there’s my idea. My idea is pretty simple – a combination of the current tournament format with the old qualifying format.
If the qualifying breaks down into seven groups once again, then the top two finishers from each group automatically qualify. The next eight best point finishers (not necessarily third-placed teams) also qualify.
But, instead of automatically getting passage into the group stage, those eight teams will square off in a two-legged playoff. This playoff doesn’t have to happen immediately after the end of qualifying, but can either happen in February/March or it can be an official part of the tournament itself, where the four playoffs would be contested in the week before the group stage kicks off, with the winners being placed into a pre-determined group, as the playoff participants would be placed in the seeding pots with the already-qualified teams.
The group stage would consist of four groups of five teams (which means only one extra group match, as opposed to two, with plan #2), and as is the case now, the top two in each group would advance to the quarters.
Each of the ideas have their pros and cons. I do like my idea, but in terms of which one looks more likely to actually be put in place is the first one, where there aren’t any extra matches, or the second one, which is similar to the UEFA Cup group stage.
Do you think the European Championships should be expanded? If you do, which idea do you think would work the best? Or do you have your own clever idea? Comment away!