KEIR RADNEDGE in PARIS: The 24-team format which contributed to a lowering of quality and goal-scoring at the European Championship finals is here to stay, in the short-term at least.
Expansion of the finals in France from 16 teams raised interest in the qualifying competition but sparked a negative first-time drop to below two goals per game on average in the group stage of the finals in a tournament which is supposed to be a football showcase.
UEFA officials, at an event-concluding news conference, said that the structural faults of the tournament would be reviewed but that, with host cities and format already contracted for the pan-European finals in 2020, no major immediate change was envisaged.
This left open the possibility for minor tweaks, such as lowering the ‘dead match’ flaw by enacting goal difference rather than mutual results a the first criterion for separating teams level on points.
Theodore Theodoridis, UEFA’s acting general secretary, said expert technical advice would be sought to consider any decisions about future championships.
However he added: “I think the tournament was very competitive and we were very pleased with the quality of play. There were some incredible fixtures. Of course, in a tournament with 51 matches, you will not see games for every taste but i think the level of the tournament was very high.
“You also have to consider the qualfiers as well as the final tournament and we think overall it was a big success.”
In any case, 2024 was now fixed in stone according to Theodoridis. No reduction back to 16 and no increase to 32.
He said: “The national teams committee will make any proposal to the executive committee. We already have 24 teams agreed for 2020 but this particular committee is constantly reviewing the different elements.
“Of course, 2024 is wide open and it’s a very intersting discussion. But you have to consider the overall competition which means not only the finals but the qualifying competition. A format of 32 teams would kill the qualifiers.”
Giorgio Marchetti, UEFA’s competitions director, acknowledged criticism of the lower quality and goals ratio but thought these had been balanced by the change gained in competitive balance from admitting more teams to the finals.
He said: “We observed the matches as being more competitive than ever. The newcomers were the surprise. None of them ended the group in last position. Only Albania did not qualify for the second round and even they finished third in their group.”
Marchetti accepted concern over the erratic difference in recovery times between matches but thought this an inevitable outcome of a ‘third-placed teams’ system.
On one point, everyone was agreed. Action would be needed to prevent avoid the finals being staged on such poor pitches again . . . though whether the UEFA executive committee can control the weather was not discussed.
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