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24-Team Euros: success or failure?

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Poland v Portugal - EURO 2016 - Quarter Final

So Euro 2016 is over, and the narratives are already forming about how good a tournament it was, particularly with reflection on the expansion of the Euros to a 24-team format. It seems a lot of people are disappointed and are blaming the expansion for diluting the quality of the tournament and the lack of entertaining matches.

Except…this is a narrative that’s been in place for years – since the announcement of the expansion was made, in fact. There have been “concerns” it would dilute the quality, compared to the great 16-team tournaments of the past, particularly Euro 2000. This never really went away.

In the circumstances, it feels very much like confirmation bias to blame the extra teams for this. They were not the problem with Euro 2016. The fact that we had some new teams, often from smaller countries, freshened up the scene and provided some great stories. By and large, they weren’t all that defensive anyway – Hungary, Wales and Iceland all shouldn’t be regarded as defensive teams as they scored plenty of goals and were involved in several entertaining matches. The subtle blame from the likes of the English seems misplaced – although hardly surprising considering they lost to one of those new teams, eh?

The main problems were twofold. Firstly, the format of qualifying for the last 16 which meant teams could afford to play it safe – this was the format the 24-team World Cup settled on because the alternative, two group stages, was trialled for several World Cups and failed. There is no satisfactory format with 24 teams that could work better without having more games for each team, which seems to be something most countries would want to avoid.

Secondly, if anyone stunk up the tournament with mediocre football, it was the regular qualifiers, none of whom seemed to be more than a sum of their parts. England, Russia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Sweden were probably the five most disappointing teams in the tournament, all of whom looking disorganised and uninspiring – none of them could be described as minnows.

Even the giants of European football were ultimately underwhelming – Spain limped through the group and it wasn’t particularly surprising to see them dumped out shortly after that, while Germany and France progressed deep into the tournament without ever looking like very good teams and there is a sense of justice that neither of them won it in the end. Only Italy of the traditional elite looked like a handy team, and even then this was considered to be a weak Italian squad due to a lack of quality strikers and the injuries to Claudio Marchisio and Marco Verratti, their two best central midfielders.

However, I don’t see anyone blaming these teams for being the problem at this Euros. For my money, it was not the depth of quality of the tournament that was the issue – the celebrated 2014 World Cup had an overall lower standard of defending, which is what made it so entertaining. It was the best teams just not being that much more incisive than the rest, which harks back to Euro 2004, ultimately leading to Greece’s victory. Similarly, a lot of blame can be put on the managers of these teams – Del Bosque, Deschamps, Low and Hodgson all made poor decisions and stuck to players that didn’t deserve to be in their squads or starting XIs.

Even then, the evidence that this was a “boring” tournament when compared to two years ago or previous Euros doesn’t hold up beyond the group stages. The knockout stages saw more goals than the 2014 knockout matches, while the total number of goals across the quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals was higher than that of 2012. While goals aren’t everything, it’s clear that the perceived lack of entertainment isn’t unique to Euro 2016 – knockout matches in international tournaments have rarely been particularly attacking games due to the high stakes. The problem is by that point the narrative that this was a “bad” tournament was already set in motion by that point, as in 2010, so it’s hard to undo that later on.

What this comes down to is that international football has been primarily based around defensive organisation for decades, at the very least since the 1970s as demonstrated by the great West Germany team of that period (though even the fabled 1966 England team was seen as unattractive at the time). As club football has seen increasingly intricate tactical systems, it has become harder to organise international teams and thus it’s so much easier to just play defensively. Greece’s Euro 2004 win epitomised how it’s possible to win tournaments just by getting limited players well-drilled.

Additionally, everyone takes different memories away from a tournament. England fans are typically nostalgic about the 1990 World Cup despite it being a very dull tournament and England’s performances being dour and unspectacular. Moreover, they probably won’t take away great memories of this tournament, as the dour, unspectacular football they played didn’t bring results on this occasion. Meanwhile, Wales fans will no doubt remember this tournament fondly for their team’s success. I’m not saying it always comes down to whichever team you support, but you’d be a fool to not consider how it plays into people’s perceptions.

The fact is international football is generally not as entertaining as Premier League football – that’s always been the case and is unlikely to change any time soon. The 2014 World Cup was a one-off and will be rose-tinted about for decades – people remember the high points, such as the high-scoring matches, but will conveniently forget the dull final and the Argentina-Netherlands semi-final that ended goalless after 120 minutes. It was always going to be hard to live up to an inaccurate nostalgic depiction of the previous tournament.

The format clearly has to be worked on, but it’s only one factor of several. But compare this to Euro 96, the first Euros with 16 teams. It was far worse than Euro 2016 – of the 7 knockout matches, 5 went to extra-time, 4 went to penalties (including both semi-fnals), and 3 of those were goalless. Of the 2 matches that finished in 90 minutes (both being quarter-finals), one finished 1-0 and one finished 2-1. And yet four years later, in Euro 2000 we had the tournament regarded as one of the finest of the modern era. It clearly wasn’t the format that was to blame.

As such, it’s worth giving this 24-team format another go. Certainly it would be a terrible, regressive idea to go back to 16 teams, because the benefits of having extra teams that wouldn’t ordinarily qualify for major tournaments have now been demonstrated. As a result, the only solution beyond that is to expand further, which I don’t believe would dilute the quality much further – the gap between the 24th-best team and the 32nd-best team in Europe is far smaller than the perceived gap between the 16th- and 24th-best teams.

Even so,  I can’t imagine it’d be popular with fans of big nations like, say, England – after all, that’s another 8 teams they could be knocked out by…

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Written by James Bennett

July 11, 2016 at 17:17

Euros with 32 teams

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We’d have seen even more of Jari Litmanen in a Finland shirt with 32 teams at the Euros

It’s now over eight months since I completed the 24-Team Euros series. Mulling over it recently, it was quite a useful venture, although it’s usefulness in predicting who was going to qualify for Euro 2016 seems to be pretty limited. Even so, it’s good to dream about Lithuania at Euro 96 or Armenia in Euro 2012.

Nonetheless, it’s left me pondering what if…what if it was taken further? Of course 32 teams in the Euros is a pretty stupid idea – if, as some would argue, 24 teams is arguably oversaturation point, including over half the continent’s teams in a major tournament is ridiculous. And yet…I can’t help but wonder what it would be like.

So let’s just ignore the practicalities for a moment. Following the same format as before, with the Euros and World Cup qualification expanded, I’ve worked through from Euro 96 on to see who would have qualified, including a reminder of the 24-team expansion qualifiers.

Euro 96
Actual: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey

17-24: Belgium, Greece, Lithuania, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Sweden

25-32: Austria, Belarus, Finland, Georgia, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Ukraine

1998 World Cup
Actual: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Scotland, Spain, Yugoslavia

16-24: Greece, Hungary, Israel, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Russia, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine

25-32: Cyprus, Czech Republic, Finland, Georgia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland

Euro 2000
Actual: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Yugoslavia

17-24: Croatia, Israel, Poland, Republic of Ireland, Russia, Scotland, Switzerland, Ukraine

25-32: Austria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cyprus, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Latvia, Slovakia

2002 World Cup
Actual: Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey

16-24: Austria, Belarus, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Romania, Scotland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Yugoslavia

25-32: Bulgaria, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Norway

Euro 2004
Actual: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland

17-24: Belgium, Norway, Poland, Romania, Scotland, Slovenia, Turkey, Wales

25-32: Austria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Iceland, Israel, Republic of Ireland, Serbia & Montenegro, Slovakia, Ukraine

2006 World Cup
Actual: Croatia, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Serbia & Montenegro, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine

15-24: Austria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Denmark, Israel, Norway, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Turkey

25-32: Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Slovenia

Euro 2008
Actual: Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey

17-24: Bulgaria, England, Israel, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Serbia

25-32: Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Slovakia, Ukraine, Wales

2010 World Cup
Actual: Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland

14-24: Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, Latvia, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine

25-32: Austria, Belarus, Hungary, Israel, Lithuania, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Turkey

Euro 2012
Actual: Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine

17-24: Armenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Estonia, Hungary, Montenegro, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey

25-32: Belarus, Belgium, Israel, Romania, Scotland, Serbia, Slovakia, Wales

2014 World Cup
Actual: Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland

14-24: Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Ukraine

25-32: Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Finland, Israel, Montenegro, Poland, Republic of Ireland, Turkey


The mighty Azerbaijan would have made a 32-team ‘European Cup of Nations’ in 2014

The headlines

– Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Georgia and Moldova are the additions to the list of teams who would have made a major tournament. Azerbaijan (2014 WC) and Moldova (Euro 96) join Armenia on the one-hit-wonders list, while Cyprus (1998 WC and Euro 2000) would have qualified for 2 and Georgia (Euro 96, 1998 WC and 2002 WC) for 3

– At the other end of the scale, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, the Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Turkey and Ukraine would be added to the list of teams who would have qualified for every tournament, while Yugoslavia/Serbia qualified for every one they were eligible for (after being banned for Euro 96). This is particularly impressive/galling for Slovakia as they have only qualified for one actual tournament

– Just missing out on a full set are Austria (Euro 2012), Israel (Euro 96), Norway (2014 WC), Poland, Romania (both 2010 WC), Scotland (2014 WC) and Switzerland (2002 WC), who all made 9 of the 10 tournaments

– This leaves a core of about 25 regular teams, 10 of which would have qualified for every tournament even with only 24 teams (Croatia, England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain and Sweden). This essentially leaves between 7 and 12 spots free for others

– The team that made the most 32-team tournaments without making an actual one is Israel with 9. Next up is Finland with 8 (though only 1 24-team tournament), followed by Hungary with 7 and Lithuania and Iceland with 4.

– Wales and Northern Ireland would have both qualified for 3 tournaments, including both for Euro 2008, making it the only 32-team tournament of the last 10 with all of the Home Nations qualifying

I think the conclusion that we can draw from this is that if you’re Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Azeri, Cypriot, Georgian, Hungarian or Finnish, this would be brilliant, but if you’re a fan of high-quality football, it’s iffy at best. So obviously I’m massively in favour of it. Bring it on, Michel.


Gareth Bale would have represented Wales at a 32-team Euro 2012, but does Euro 2016 beckon?

All images used in the spirit of fair use. This is definitely the end of it – there will be no 48-team Euros article. That would just be silly

Written by James Bennett

April 2, 2015 at 17:55

Euros with 24 teams: the review

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Norway seem likely to be heading back to the big stage in 2016

So after five tournaments, the Eurotopia is done, and it has provided an intriguing batch of alternative tournaments to dream about. But this did have a serious point to it. With qualifying for the first 24-team European Championships soon to get underway, there are two questions yet to be answered about the expansion:

– will the tournament become over-saturated with too many teams?

– who is likely to benefit?

Oversaturation?
I’ve always been in favour of the expansion, mainly for selfish reasons – it gives Wales a better chance of qualifying. But also I think it needs freshening up. With little difference between the number of UEFA teams qualifying for the World Cup and the Euros, the same teams tend to qualify, which compares badly to the Africa Cup of Nations and the AFC Asian Cup.

I believe allowing new nations to step up will benefit European international football as a whole, in the same way the expansion of the Africa Cup of Nations has allowed countries like Botswana, Niger and Ethiopia to progress as footballing nations, in turn weakening the positions of the country’s juggernauts like Cameroon, Nigeria and Egypt, who have all failed to qualify for recent tournaments.

But the counter-argument of it diluting the quality of the tournament should not be ignored. Euro 96, 2000 and 2008 in particular have gone down as classic tournaments, and this stems from a small competitive field of talented teams. Adding in weaker teams could disrupt that – no longer will we see groups like England-Germany-Portugal-Romania of Euro 2000 (or Shearer-Matthaus-Figo-Hagi if you want), or France-Italy-Netherlands-Romania of Euro 2008. At least one less competitive nation in each group at these tournaments was guaranteed.

In the light of disappointing recent World Cups, it looked as if we would have to prepare for more stilted group stage matches with the big teams doing just enough to get through. But the 2014 World Cup seems to have changed perceptions and brought out the optimism in people. Euro 2016 could yet follow it as an attacking tournament with plenty of surprise results.

Who will benefit?

Taken in isolation for a moment, here are the teams that gain an extra participation through 24-team Euros from 1996:

Norway – 4 (1996, 2004, 2008, 2012)

Rep of Ireland – 3 (1996, 2000, 2008)
Scotland – 3 (2000, 2004, 2008)

Belgium – 2 (1996, 2004)
Israel – 2 (2000, 2008)
Northern Ireland – 2 (1996, 2008)
Poland – 2 (2000, 2004)
Switzerland – 2 (2000, 2012)
Turkey – 2 (2004, 2012)

Armenia – 1 (2012)
Bosnia & Herzegovina – 1 (2012)
Bulgaria – 1 (2008)
Croatia – 1 (2000)
England – 1 (2008)
Estonia – 1 (2012)
Greece – 1 (1996)
Hungary – 1 (2012)
Lithuania – 1 (1996)
Montenegro – 1 (2012)
Romania – 1 (2004)
Russia – 1 (2000)
Slovakia – 1 (1996)
Slovenia – 1 (2004)
Serbia – 1 (2008)
Sweden – 1 (1996)
Ukraine – 1 (2000)
Wales – 1 (2004)

However, this clearly doesn’t tell the whole story – it won’t tell us who is likely or unlikely to qualify unless we combine actual and theoretical qualifications. In the event, Croatia, England, Norway, Russia and Sweden would have been added to the list of teams who would have qualified for all five of the Euros along with France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands, while a number of others would get four of the five.

But five tournaments is still a pretty small sample size, so I have another way of examining this.

“The European Cup of Nations”
Until fairly recently, the Africa Cup of Nations was held in even-numbered years, which meant every other tournament would be held in the same year as a World Cup. This led to qualification for the two tournaments being merged into one competition.

It gave me the idea of looking at what would have happened had UEFA brought in the same thing. Obviously this is in no way realistic on so many levels, even if it would have been enormous fun to travel to Sweden for an international tournament in January (so if you are reading Michel…). But it is interesting to look at who the 24 teams qualifying for such a tournament would be, if only to act as a further comparison.

I started with 1994, which was notable for being the last World Cup with 24 teams overall, giving me 20 years of fictional tournaments to work with.

1994
The World Cup that none of the Home Nations qualified for would have produced the ECoN that all of them would have qualified for, giving England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a chance to compete at an as-yet undetermined location. Joining them there would be France, who famously missed out on a place in the USA courtesy of a wayward David Ginola cross, European champions Denmark and the golden generation of Portugal. Austria, Hungary and the Representation of Czechs and Slovaks (RCS for short; the former Czechoslovakia to you and I) would have made up the central European contingent, and Iceland would have made their first major tournament.

1998
Play-off losers Russia, Ukraine, Hungary and the Republic of Ireland all would have progressed to a tournament that probably would have been in France as a dry run for the World Cup. Surprise non-qualifiers Sweden and Portugal would also have made it, along with Greece and Turkey. Israel and Lithuania were tied for the last place on the six-game record that was usually used to determine these things, but over eight matches, Israel had the better record so I’ve given them the place.

2002
Louis van Gaal might not have guided the Netherlands to the World Cup but they would have made the ECoN as the best third-placed team. Scotland qualified in similar fashion after their disappointing campaign, along with Slovakia, Yugoslavia and surprise package Belarus. The play-off losers were Austria, Romania, Ukraine and the Czech Republic, getting a reprieve after a surprising failure to qualify.

2006
A reduction in the number of spots for UEFA teams means there would have been ten additional qualifiers for the ECoN in Germany, led by play-off losers Slovakia, Turkey and Norway. There would have been joined by seven of the eight third-placed teams: Bosnia & Herzegovina would have qualified for the first time, along with the more familiar flags of Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Romania, Russia and Israel. Scotland were the third-placed team to miss out after picking up only 13 points from ten games.

2010
With only 13 UEFA teams qualifying for the World Cup, there would need to be eleven additions, and these were dominated by Eastern European teams. Russia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Ukraine were among the play-off losers, while Croatia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Latvia were amongst the best third-placed teams. In addition, play-off losers Norway and third-placed Sweden and Finland made up the Scandinavian additions, and the final spot went to the Republic of Ireland despite the Hand of Frog.

2014
Another eleven teams and it’s the same old suspects. From the north, Sweden, Denmark and surprise package Iceland qualify as play-off losers, along with Ukraine and Romania. Of the third-placed teams, Serbia and Slovenia represent the former Yugoslavia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia represent the former Czechoslovakia, and Hungary and Austria represent the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Finland, Montenegro and Israel finished third in their groups lost out, the former pair on goal difference.

In total…
Here are the combined total additional appearances including both 24-team Euros and ECoN

Norway – 6 (96, 04, 06, 08, 10, 12)

Republic of Ireland – 5 (96, 98, 00, 08, 10)
Scotland – 5 (94, 00, 02, 04, 08)
Ukraine – 5 (98, 00, 02, 10, 14)

Austria – 4 (94, 02, 06, 14)
RCS/Czech Rep – 4 (94, 02, 10, 14)
Hungary – 4 (94, 98, 12, 14)
Israel – 4 (98, 00, 06, 08)
Romania – 4 (02, 04, 06, 14)
Russia – 4 (98, 00, 06, 10)
Slovakia – 4 (96, 02, 06, 14)
Sweden – 4 (96, 98, 10, 14)
Turkey – 4 (98, 04, 06, 12)

Bosnia & Herzegovina – 3 (2006, 2010, 2012)
Bulgaria – 3 (2006, 2008, 2010)
Denmark – 3 (1994, 2006, 2014)
Northern Ireland – 3 (1994, 1996, 2008)
Yugoslavia/Serbia – 3 (2002, 2008, 2014)

Belgium – 2 (1996, 2004)
Croatia – 2 (2000, 2010)
England – 2 (1994, 2008)
Greece – 2 (1996, 1998)
Iceland – 2 (1994, 2014)
Poland – 2 (2000, 2004)
Portugal – 2 (1994, 1998)
Slovenia – 2 (2004, 2014)
Switerland – 2 (2000, 2012)
Wales – 2 (1994, 2004)

Armenia – 1 (2012)
Belarus – 1 (2002)
Estonia – 1 (2012)
Finland – 1 (2010)
France – 1 (1994)
Latvia – 1 (2010)
Lithuania – 1 (1996)
Montenegro – 1 (2012)
Netherlands – 1 (2002)

Combine it with the actual qualification figures and we have a tiered system on who is likely to qualify for 24-team European Championships in the future.

Almost certain – teams who would have qualified for all possible tournaments
England – 11
France – 11
Germany – 11
Italy – 11
Netherlands – 11
Portugal – 11
Russia – 11
Spain – 11
Sweden – 11
Croatia – 10 (out of 10 attempts to qualify – did not enter WC94)

This group can feel fairly safe about their chances of making Euro 2016. Barring an absolute disaster, they will be there and most will be amongst the leading contenders for the title. Of these, only Germany, Italy and Spain have actually qualified for every tournament, with France missing the first of them and Netherlands missing 2002. By contrast, Russia and Sweden failed to qualify for four of them.

Very likely – teams who would have qualified for all bar one or two
Czech Republic – 10 (1 as RCS)
Denmark – 10
Norway – 9
Romania – 9
Switzerland – 9
Serbia – 7 (4 as Yugoslavia/Serbia & Montenegro; out of 9 attempts to qualify – banned for WC94 and Euro 96)

This group will also feel pretty confident as they have a good record in qualifiers, theoretically qualifying for three-quarters of the 24-team tournaments. Norway are perhaps the surprise package here having not qualified for an actual tournament since Euro 2000 but are consistently around the top three in their groups. When including theoretical qualifications, the Czech Republic missed only 1998 and Denmark missed only 2008.

Likely – teams who would have qualified for most tournaments but not all
Greece – 8
Republic of Ireland – 8
Turkey – 8
Belgium – 7
Bulgaria – 7
Scotland – 7
Ukraine – 7 (out of 10 attempts to qualify – did not enter WC94)

This group are there more often than not but are on the margins – the running total of teams after this group is 23, so you can expect a couple of these teams to miss out. Nonetheless, expectations should and will be high, as a number of these nations haven’t been at a major tournament for some time, particularly Scotland, who last made one in 1998.

Semi-regulars – teams who would have qualified for around half the tournaments
Austria – 6
Poland – 6
Slovakia – 5 (out of 10 attempts to qualify – did not enter WC94)
Slovenia – 5 (out of 10 attempts to qualify – did not enter WC94)
Bosnia & Herzegovina – 4 (out of 9 attempts to qualify – first attempt WC98)
Hungary – 4
Israel – 4
Montenegro – 1 (out of 3 attempts to qualify – first attempt WC10)

The fates of these countries will depend on the quality of generations of players – Austria benefited during the 1990s, Poland during the 2000s, and Hungary in the distant past but have also performed well in the 2010s. Bosnia & Herzegovina will be expected to qualify after making the 2014 World Cup and Israel, who last qualified for an actual major tournament in 1970, are in the same qualifying group as them. Montenegro are hard to call but I’ve put them in here as they have performed to this level in recent campaigns.

Outside shot – teams who would have qualified once or twice a generation
Northern Ireland – 3
Iceland – 2
Latvia – 2
Wales – 2
Armenia – 1 (out of 10 attempts to qualify – did not enter WC94)
Belarus – 1 (out of 10 attempts to qualify – did not enter WC94)
Estonia – 1
Finland – 1
Lithuania – 1

These teams will pop up once every now and then, making up one of the 24 countries at roughly every other tournament. There are five ex-Soviet states here, with only Latvia having qualified for an actual tournament. Iceland will be contenders for 2016 after a strong 2014 campaign. Northern Ireland, Finland and Wales lurch from struggling to being an occasional surprise package, which the latter have the potential to be in the upcoming campaign.

Very unlikely – teams who would never have qualified
Albania – 0
Andorra – 0 (out of 8 attempts to qualify – first attempt Euro 00)
Azerbaijan – 0 (out of 10 attempts to qualify – did not enter WC94)
Cyprus – 0
Faroe Islands – 0
Georgia – 0 (out of 10 attempts to qualify – did not enter WC94)
Gibraltar – 0 (yet to enter)
Kazakhstan – 0 (out of 5 attempts to qualify – first attempt WC06)
Macedonia – 0 (out of 10 attempts to qualify – did not enter WC94)
Liechtenstein – 0 (out of 10 attempts to qualify – did not enter WC94)
Luxembourg – 0
Malta – 0
Moldova – 0 (out of 10 attempts to qualify – did not enter WC94)
San Marino – 0

Of all these, Albania, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia and Moldova form their own little sub-group of nations ms who have the potential to make it with a very good generation, as demonstrated by Estonia who would have fallen into this group but for one outstanding campaign. Andorra, the Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta and San Marino are almost certainly far too small to ever get anywhere near qualifying; even George Weah couldn’t drag this lot to a major tournament.


Things look grim for Lorik Cana and Albania

All images used in the spirit of fair use

Written by James Bennett

July 15, 2014 at 23:35

Euro 2012…with 24 teams

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The last qualifying campaign before the move to a 24-team format saw a shift back to smaller groups with only the group winners guaranteed to qualify. This time all the big guns made it through unscathed, with Germany, Italy, France, Netherlands, England and Spain all winning their groups, along with Greece, Denmark and Russia, and Sweden qualifying as the best runners-up.

But behind them, there were plenty of surprises, with three teams entering the play-offs with a chance of making their first major tournament. For Bosnia & Herzegovina, it wasn’t much of a surprise, as they had been progressing for a while, and Montenegro were the new kids on the block but clearly had capable players. However, Estonia’s shock second place in a group also containing Serbia, Slovenia and Northern Ireland was a huge shock, but they were unfortunate to be drawn with a Republic of Ireland side fired up after losing to France in the 2010 World Cup play-offs.

Similarly, Montenegro were beaten by old hands the Czech Republic, while Bosnia were dumped out by Portugal. In the last tie, Croatia beat Turkey, giving the tournament another familiar feel. It’s easy to see why many thought an expansion was necessary – by now, it was largely the same teams qualifying for every European Championship. A shake-up was needed.

The additional qualifiers
The evidence for this is all too clear in the list of teams that would have qualified for a 24-team Euro 2012 – it would have featured a stack of unfamiliar teams making a breakthrough. For a start, there are the play-off losers, which included three new teams, along with Turkey, who again missed out on a major tournament. Firstly, there is Bosnia & Herzegovina, who would instead qualify for their first major tournament two years later. In this campaign they were unfortunate to finish behind France, after a late Samir Nasri penalty forced a draw between the two teams in the final match of the group.


Estonia’s record goalscorer Andres Oper might have added to his tally at a 24-team Euro 2012

Montenegro finished behind England (despite not losing to them) and ahead of Switzerland, Wales and Bulgaria to finish second in their group; it was only their second qualification campaign as an independent nation. Estonia were the true anomaly, though – after this campaign, they slipped back to fifth place in their World Cup qualifying group, suggesting it was a one-off. It may prove to be the closest they come to reaching a major tournament.

The other four spots are taken up by the four best third-placed finishers, and there were even more surprises. Joining semi-regular qualifiers Switzerland and the team that always gets close to qualifying but doesn’t, Norway, there was another new nation in a major tournament and one returning after a long absence.

Driven on by an emerging young generation including Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Yura Movsisyan, Armenia had finished third behind Russia and the Republic of Ireland after going into their final game in Dublin with a chance of making the play-offs (an opportunity lost when they lost 2-1 to the Irish). Nonetheless, they make a 24-team Euro 2012, along with Hungary, who would have finally qualified for a major tournament for the first time since 1986 and a European Championship for the first time since 1972.


Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s Armenia narrowly missed out on a play-off berth but would have made a 24-team tournament

Of the third-placed teams missing out, Scotland were the most unfortunate, finishing behind Switzerland on goal difference. Israel, Belgium, Serbia and Romania were the other four teams, the latter having the worst record and thus would also miss out on a play-off if that was used to determine the final four spots.

The draw
Seeding is relatively straight forward. A modified version of the original co-efficient was used, and 15 of the 16 teams that actually qualified were the top 15 teams in the ranking, leaving only co-hosts Poland further down. The result is all of the additional teams fit below them.

In the actual seeding, World Cup finalists Spain and the Netherlands are seeded alongside the co-hosts, with Germany, Italy, England and Russia in Pot Two, Croatia, Greece, Portugal and Sweden in Pot Three, and Denmark, France, the Czech Republic and the Republic of Ireland in Pot Four.

With the new teams slotting in below, it means that Germany and Italy are promoted into the top pot, with England and Russia joined by the four Pot Three teams in Pot Two. The four Pot Four teams are joined by Switzerland and Turkey in the new Pot Three, and the last pot is made up of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Norway, Hungary, Montenegro, Estonia and Armenia.

It’s quite a top-heavy seeding, with only France and a few tricky teams in Pot Three and a weak batch of new additions in Pot Four. It feels almost like a World Cup. After quite a competitive 24-team Euro 2008, this is more polarised, if only because some teams improved enormously in the interim period. But at the same time, it feels like a very interesting tournament because of the diverse range of teams in it.

Projected Pot One
Poland
Ukraine
Spain
Netherlands
Germany
Italy

Projected Pot Two
England
Russia
Croatia
Greece
Portugal
Sweden

Projected Pot Three
Denmark
France
Czech Republic
Republic of Ireland
Switzerland
Turkey

Projected Pot Four
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Norway
Hungary
Montenegro
Estonia
Armenia


Mirko Vucinic came close to leading Montenegro into their first major tournament, but does Euro 2016 beckon?

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Written by James Bennett

July 15, 2014 at 20:39

Euro 2008…with 24 teams

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In a change from previous campaigns, Euro 2008 qualifying saw seven groups with the top two in each automatically qualifying and no play-offs. This was surely good news for the continent’s most powerful nations, with most finding their way to Austria and Switzerland, but it wasn’t enough for England, who became the campaign’s biggest casualty by finishing behind Croatia and Russia under the ill-fated leadership of Steve McClaren.

Joining usual suspects France, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Portugal were semi-regulars Poland, Croatia and Russia, reigning European champions Greece, and two teams returning to a major tournament finals: Turkey, for the first time since the 2002 World Cup, and Romania, for the first time since Euro 2000. It was one of the most memorable qualifying campaigns ever, particularly for British fans, and yet despite many shock results, the teams that made it had a familiar feel.

The additional qualifiers
With eight extra spots open, though, it’s fairly clear that every team who finished third in a group would also have qualified. The British Isles as a whole would have benefited enormously from this in particular. England and McClaren would have been given a narrow reprieve after edging Israel on head-to-head, while Scotland, who beat 2006 World Cup finalists France twice but narrowly missed out, would have been fairly rewarded for their efforts.

The Republic of Ireland would have been back at the Euros (for the first time in twenty years if ignoring previous reprieves in 1996 and 2000) under the management of Steve Staunton, while their neighbours Northern Ireland would also have made it after a sensational campaign in which they beat Spain, Swden and Denmark and striker David Healy topped the overall qualifying scoring charts with a record tally of 13 goals.


David Healy inspired Northern Ireland to a famous win over Spain but missed out on a major tournament

Elsewhere, Norway feature after another reprieve (and there’s more to come), led by the goalscoring talents of John Carew and Steffen Iversen, and they are joined by Dimitar Berbatov’s Bulgaria, who finished a point behind the Netherlands in Group G despite drawing twice with Albania (the first of which cost Hristo Stoichkov his job as manager). The other third-placed team was Serbia in their first campaign since Montenegro’s independence; they finished ahead of Finland on head-to-head record in Group A.

This leaves one more spot for the fourth-placed team with the best record, being contested between Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Denmark, Finland, Israel, Slovakia and Ukraine. In a huge disappointment for Jari Litmanen fans, Finland just miss out, finishing with the second-best record behind Israel, who again head to a 24-team Euros after previously “qualifying” for Euro 2000. However, we can just pretend that we could have had a play-off between the two sides and that Finland may have won it…


Despite scoring six goals, Dimitar Berbatov couldn’t inspire Bulgaria to Euro 2008 qualification

The draw
The national team co-efficient was again used for the seeding, and as usual it threw up some odd pots. With two co-hosts and reigning champions Greece automatically placed in Pot One, it would have seemed almost as if the top pot was actually the bottom one but for the inclusion of the Netherlands. Pot Two included Croatia, Italy, the Czech Republic and Sweden, while Pot Three included Germany, Portugal, Spain and Romania, and Pot Four featured France, Poland, Turkey and Russia. Remarkably, this could have produced a potential group of Netherlands-Italy-Spain-France, and indeed brought three of the teams together, with Romania as the Pot Three team.

Naturally, adding six extra teams to the mix is going to water this down somewhat. Croatia and Italy would have been promoted to Pot One, with Pot Two being made up of the Czech Republic, Sweden, Romania, Germany, Portugal and Spain. England, stuck in Pot Three with Poland, France, Turkey, Russia and Serbia, would likely have faced a tough draw. The bottom pot included Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, Norway and Israel.

The toughest possible draw? Netherlands-Spain-England-Ireland would have been fun. Alternatively, Italy-Portugal-France-Scotland would have been fiercely competitive. Euro 2008 was a great tournament (with one of the best TV intros), but unlike its predecessors, adding more teams may not have detracted from its quality. This was definitely a time where there were more than 16 competitive international teams in Europe and provides arguably the best case for the expansion.

Projected Pot One
Switzerland
Austria
Greece
Netherlands
Croatia
Italy

Projected Pot Two
Czech Republic
Sweden
Romania
Germany
Portugal
Spain

Projected Pot Three
England
Poland
France
Turkey
Russia
Serbia

Projected Pot Four
Norway
Israel
Bulgaria
Scotland
Republic of Ireland
Northern Ireland


James McFadden sunk France in Paris with a brilliant strike; given the chance, could he have been Scotland’s hero on the big stage?

Next time – four new teams to the Euros, plus the return of one of the great footballing nations

All images used in the spirit of fair use

Written by James Bennett

July 15, 2014 at 01:43

Euro 2004…with 24 teams

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Beginning after a World Cup full of shocks in the Far East, Euro 2004 qualification would continue the surprises. The biggest came in Group Six where Greece, who hadn’t qualified for a major tournament since the 1994 World Cup, topped the group ahead of 2002 quarter-finalists Spain. Belgium missed out as Bulgaria qualified for their first post-Stoichkov tournament, while Switzerland returned to the fold for the first time since Euro 96 ahead of Russia and the Republic of Ireland.

The play-offs would thus see a wide range of teams, including Spain, the Netherlands (beaten by the Czech Republic in their group), World Cup semi-finalists Turkey, Russia, Croatia, Slovenia, Norway, Scotland and two more surprise packages, Wales, who had inflicted Italy’s only defeat of the campaign, and Latvia, who beat Poland into second in Group Four.

In a dramatic series of games, the biggest teams progressed: the Dutch, inspired by a Ruud van Nistelrooy, hat trick, beat Scotland 6-0 in the second leg despite losing 1-0 in Glasgow, and Spain beat Norway 3-0 in Oslo to secure a 5-1 aggregate win. But the rest went down to the wire. Despite securing a 0-0 draw in Moscow, Wales lost 1-0 at home, with Russia progressing despite a positive drugs test for midfielder Yegor Titov, while a second half goal from Dado Prso was enough to give Croatia a 2-1 aggregate win over Slovenia in Ljubjana. But the big shock came in Istanbul. Latvia had won 1-0 in Riga, but went 2-0 down in the second half. However, goals from Jurijs Laizans and Maris Verpakovskis secured their first qualification for a major tournament.

They joined all of the other juggernauts in Portugal – France qualified winning all eight of their group games, while England and Germany all progressed without defeat, and Sweden and Italy also confirming their presence. But who would have been the other eight teams to make it a 24-team tournament?

The additional qualifiers
Again, all five of the losing play-off teams would have been guaranteed a place in the finals, as finishing in the top two of a group would have been enough.

For Slovenia and Turkey, it would have been their third consecutive major tournament. Norway would have returned after missing the 2002 World Cup, while Scotland would be appearing for the first time since the 1998 World Cup (not counting their appearance in a 24-team Euro 2000) with a team managed by Berti Vogts and probably captained by Barry Ferguson.

But the real story would have been Wales. They had (and still have) only qualified for one major tournament: the 1958 World Cup. There had been a number of other close calls – they reached the last eight of the 1976 European Championships when it was still only a four-team tournament, while they had come close to qualifying for the 1982, 1986 and 1994 World Cups – but this is the closest they have come in the last two decades. As a result, Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy, Gary Speed, Robbie Savage and others missed out on their best opportunity to appear at a major international tournament.


In club football, Ryan Giggs won just about everything, but he never played in a major international tournament

The remaining three teams would have been the best third-placed teams. While the likes of Israel, Austria and Slovakia fell comfortably short, it was three major tournament regulars who would have benefited. Belgium would have qualified for yet another tournament despite missing out by a point to Bulgaria and on goal difference to Croatia, while Romania would have bounced back from missing out on the 2002 World Cup, armed with pre-positive drugs test Adrian Mutu of Chelsea. The final spot would have gone to Poland, who had finished three points behind the inspired Latvians.


Adrian Mutu was present at Euro 2000 and 2008 but Romania failed to qualify in between

In the event of a play-off to decide these three slots, it may have been a litle more intriguing. The Republic of Ireland and Serbia & Montenegro would have been tough opponents, but the real surprise package would have been Iceland, who had finished third behind Germany and Scotland in Group Five, missing a real play-off spot by a point. However, this great generation of Icelandic players (Gudjohnsen, Helguson, Hreidarsson, Ingimarsson, Bergsson et al) would have missed out on an automatic slot in a 24-team Euro 2004 on goal difference, as their 13 points tied with Poland’s total but with a difference of +2 compared to the Poles’ +4.

The draw
Again, the pots for the first round draw were determined by the national team coefficient, based on the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004 qualifying campaigns. In reality, the four seeds were Portugal, France, Sweden and the Czech Republic, with big guns Italy, Spain, England and Germany locked into the second pot, and the Netherlands down in the third pot due to their underwhelming performances in both campaigns. It was less spread out than Euro 2000, which produced a couple of very strong groups, but did at least produce a lot of tight competitive games, as well as the early eliminations of Germany, Italy and Spain.

With 24 teams, it is again diluted, although perhaps not as much as Euro 2000, which is perhaps down to the low co-efficients of Latvia, Greece, Switzerland and Bulgaria. Indeed, only Italy and Spain are promoted into Pot One, leaving England and Germany in Pot Two with the Netherlands, Turkey, Croatia and Belgium. Pot Three would include Russia, Denmark, Poland, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania, while Pot Four would include Scotland, Switzerland, Greece, Norway, Latvia and Wales.

So while it is no longer possible to get a Portugal-Spain-Russia-Greece, or Czech Republic-Germany-Netherlands-Latvia, it is possible to get a group as competitive as France-England-Denmark-Switzerland or Italy-Germany-Russia-Norway. There’s still plenty of promise there for an exciting tournament – especially if you’re Welsh.

Projected Pot One
Portugal
France
Sweden
Czech Republic
Italy
Spain

Projected Pot Two
England
Turkey
Germany
Netherlands
Croatia
Belgium

Projected Pot Three
Russia
Denmark
Poland
Slovenia

Bulgaria
Romania

Projected Pot Four
Scotland
Switzerland
Greece
Norway
Latvia
Wales


Yildiray Basturk’s only major tournament for Turkey was the 2002 World Cup, but the playmaker almost certainly would have appeared in a 24-team Euro 2004

Next time – four British Isles teams are helped to Austria and Switzerland

All images used in the spirit of fair use

Written by James Bennett

July 14, 2014 at 21:42

Euro 2000…with 24 teams

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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 draw
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
Belgium
Netherlands
Germany
Spain
Romania
Norway

Projected Pot Two
Sweden
Czech Republic
Yugoslavia
Portugal
France
Italy

Projected Pot Three
Scotland
Ukraine
Russia

England
Turkey
Denmark

Projected Pot Four
Republic of Ireland
Croatia
Israel
Switzerland
Poland

Slovenia


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…

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Written by James Bennett

June 7, 2014 at 00:38