NICE: At last, a major tournament finals about whose hosting no-one needs to worry writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
After all the issues over Poland and Ukraine in 2010 and the ongoing struggle FIFA faces over Brazil’s imminent World Cup, the horizon for France’s hosting of the 2016 European Championship finals appears brought and clear.
Michel Platini, as a vice-president of FIFA has seen the world federation bounce from one challenging World Cup host in South Africa to another in Brazil. But France will not give Platini – in his role as president of UEFA – any sleepless nights.
On the eve of the qualifying draw in Nice, Platini said: “The prepatory work is ahead, the stadums are going ahead, [organising president] Jacques Lambert has expressed his satisfaction. I don’t think there will be any serious concerns here about 2016.”
Platini went on to extol the virtues of the Week of Football concept which UEFA has introduced to stagger matches and capitalise on a centralised sale of television rights.
This brings the Champions League commercial concept into national team football in which, previously, each national association was responsible for the sale of its own TV rights. The bigger federations were more reluctant to come on board than the rest, fearing they would lose from the revenue share-out by comparison with the potential of their individual rights sales.
Matches will be stretched between Thursday and Tuesday with a fixed kickoff time (8.45pm CET: also 8pm CET on a Saturday ). England manager Roy Hodgson, after the draw, expressed concerns that a Thursday match could mean preparation problems coming so soon after important Premier League matches the previous Sunday.
Platini does not agree.
He said: “This is a great development for both European football and for national team football. It will prove to be something important for everyone who loves football. There was a political will to put national team football back on the same level as the club competitions.
“We did this took to try to promote the football of national teams. Clubs play on almost every day of the week and as a result, international football has been pushed out of the limelight and we would like to see it take that limelight again.
“When I was playing, for Saint-Etienne or Juventus or France, it made no difference, but times change and it is time national football had more importance again. In recent years the club game has tended to overshadow national team football.”
Platini rejected criticism that the expansion of the finals from 16 to 24 teams would reduce the competitive nature of the qualifying competition and the standard of football in the finals.
He said: “The new format gives up the opportunity to have 24 teams of high quality who will all have difficulty in qualifying. I don’t have any worries about the five or six major nations but the others will have to fight all the way.
“The finals will be excellent because the quality of teams will be as high as that in the 16-team finals.”