In the latest edition of the official UEFA publication uefadirect, UEFA President Michel Platini explained the recent decision by the UEFA Executive Committee to increase the number of EURO final-round particpants from 16 to 24 from 2016.
When, at the 2007 UEFA Congress in Düsseldorf, a few national associations raised the idea of expanding the European Football Championship final round from 16 to 24 participants, I was rather sceptical, I have to say. However, UEFA EURO 2008™ convinced me that it was a good idea.
Once again, the tournament illustrated the extraordinary passion generated by national team football and gave rise to such a fantastic party atmosphere that I felt it was only right for the tournament to be extended to more countries, to let even more supporters take part and to spread the excitement and party atmosphere far and wide across the continent. I also felt that the emotion of the tournament should be heightened by adding a direct knockout round for the last 16 in the competition and by ensuring that all the group matches, or the vast majority of them at least, would be crucial, by allowing the best third-placed teams through to the next round.
High technical level
The quality of the matches we saw during UEFA EURO 2008™ also confirmed the high technical level of European football, and teams like England, Scotland and Denmark, or even Serbia and Ukraine - to name but a few - would certainly not have reduced the quality of the tournament. In addition, by increasing the chances of qualifying for the direct knockout stages, the teams could play under less pressure than the current system allows, where losing the first match often virtually amounts to elimination from the tournament.
Competitive qualifying matches
Nor is there any reason to fear that the qualifying matches will become less interesting and valuable. Quite the opposite. The prospect of play-offs for the third-placed teams makes the qualifiers even more competitive, maintains interest in them, and, for many, keeps the dream of reaching the final round alive for longer.
Hosts` hard work
In Austria and Switzerland, I also appreciated the amount of work put in by the host cities, and I shared the disappointment of those for whom all that hard work bore fruit for only one week and the duration of three matches, whereas the return on their investments would have been greater if they had hosted more matches.
Of course, these additional matches also mean more work and a longer tournament, but for such an amazing festival that takes in the whole of Europe, it is well worth the effort.