Euro 2000…with 24 teams
The nine groups of Euro 2000 qualifying made up the first Euros qualification campaign to feature Bosnia & Herzegovina and Andorra, as well as seeing the return of Yugoslavia. All of the usual suspects would qualify, but some would have a few stories to tell from their travels and breathed a sigh of relief when it was all over.
Euro 96 winners Germany, world champions France and Italy all qualified with only one defeat to their name, but it wasn’t exactly straight-forward. France edged Ukraine by only a point after drawing three times, while Germany only finished two points ahead of Turkey, and Italy finished only a point ahead of Denmark and Switzerland. The teams that had the easiest run to the finals were often those considered to be at a level below them: Romania, Sweden and the Czech Republic qualified undefeated, while both Spain and Norway won their groups by a massive eight points.
With Portugal qualifying automatically as the best runners-up, the play-offs would inevitably be competitive. They included England, who had sacked coach Glenn Hoddle in favour of Kevin Keegan and struggled through their group, which was won by Sweden. They lost only once but won only three games, finishing ahead of Poland on goal difference.
The Three Lions would make it to the Netherlands and Belgium, though, after a narrow win over Scotland in the play-offs. Denmark thrashed Israel 8-0 over the two legs, while Turkey edged the Republic of Ireland on away goals after two draws. The real shock, though, was Slovenia defeating a Ukraine side built on the powerful Dynamo Kiev team of the past few years, meaning Andriy Shevchenko, Serhiy Rebrov and co would have to wait to compete in a major tournament.
The additional qualifiers
A 24-team competition, though, would have given Ukraine a chance to compete in the finals. With Shevchenko and Rebrov renewing their partnership after heading to AC Milan and Tottenham respectively, they would definitely have been a threat, while Arsenal’s Oleg Luzhnyi was an importance influence at the back.
The other play-off losers would have joined them in the Low Countries: Israel, Scotland, and the Republic of Ireland. It would have been Israel’s first major tournament since qualifying for the 1970 World Cup as part of the Asian confederation. Their squad would likely have included past and future English-based players, such as Eyal Berkovic, Idan Tal, Walid Badir, Najwan Ghrayib and a 20-year-old Yossi Benayoun.
Idan Tal is best remembered in England for a two-year stint at Everton but won 69 caps for Israel
Scotland and Ireland’s teams would have largely been similar to their 1998 and 2002 World Cup squads respectively. With Gordon Durie and Darren Jackson no longer on the scene, the Scots were relying on Billy Dodds up front, with Don Hutchison playing an increased role in midfield. Young Rangers midfielder Barry Ferguson was also forcing his way into the team. Ireland, meanwhile, were led by a dangerous front line of Niall Quinn and rising star Robbie Keane, with Mark Kinsella becoming a regular in midfield and Alan Kelly now the number one goalkeeper (prior to being usurped by Shay Given).
The other four teams to make it would have been the best third-placed teams. Assuming no play-off to decide this, it would have meant a reprieve from Croatia, who surprisingly finished behind Yugoslavia and Ireland in their group after a remarkable World Cup in France. Switzerland, who narrowly missed out in Group One, would also have qualified with their mix of mid-1990s stars and up-and-comers who would lead the team to Euro 2004.
Billy Dodds was nearly 30 by the time he became one of Scotland’s first choice strikers
Russia, who finished behind France and Ukraine in Group Four, would have been the seventh additional qualifier, with a team similar to that of two years later in Japan and South Korea. The last would be Poland, who nearly pipped England to second place in Group Five. It would be their first European Championships, and their first major tournament appearance since the 1986 World Cup. As with Ireland, Russia and Croatia, they would also qualify for the 2002 World Cup and so the team is again broadly similar.
Missing out despite finishing third in their group were Austria, Finland, Greece, Slovakia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, the latter being eliminated entirely even if a play-off between eight of the third-placed teams was included.
The pots for the Euro 2000 draw were separated by UEFA’s national team ranking, which ranked the teams based on their results in their last two qualification phases. In the actual pots, Germany and Spain joined the two co-hosts in the top pot, while France, Italy and Portugal were (perhaps surprisingly) in the third pot and England were in the bottom pot. But this would be dramatically changed by eight extra teams.
To begin with, Romania and Norway would be promoted into Pot One. This in turn leaves room for Portugal, France and Italy to be promoted into Pot Two. Pot Three would then see the first of the “bonus” qualifiers – Scotland, Ukraine and Russia – along with England, Turkey and Denmark, previously in Pot Three. This would leave the bottom pot to be made up of the rest of the “bonus” teams plus Slovenia, whose 1998 World Cup qualification results meant that they were ranked 36th of the 51 UEFA teams, lower than the other 23 teams in Euro 2000.
It certainly dilutes the draw, which in reality produced two notable high-quality groups: Group A of Germany, Romania, Portugal and England; and Group D of the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, France and Denmark. Though England are in Pot Three and Croatia lurk in Pot Four, this setup looks to be particularly underwhelming, with a “two strong teams plus two weaker teams” format almost guaranteed for most of the groups. This in turn would likely have led to a number of weaker teams progressing to the first knockout round. However, given that “weaker teams” probably includes England, it’s not necessarily all bad.
Projected Pot One
Projected Pot Two
Projected Pot Three
Projected Pot Four
Republic of Ireland
A diluted draw might have robbed Euro 2000 of its magic, but it may have saved Phil Neville from ignominy
Next time – regular qualifiers get a reprieve for Euro 2004, while Wales step up to the big time…
All images used in the spirit of fair use