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By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor - Archive - Email
Euro party has gotten too big
European Trophy Starting with Euro 2016, the field will be expanded from 16 teams to 24.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - After the World Cup, the European Championships is the most highly anticipated event on the international soccer calendar.

And while the World Cup is a 32-team global celebration of the game in which minnows like Algeria, Iran and Honduras are able to rub elbows with the world's elite, the Euros have always had a bit of a different feel.

There is a certain charm to the 16-team competition, making it seem more like a black-tie affair when compared to the inclusive nature of the World Cup, which has the resemblance a frat party.

Well, the Euros used to have that sort of charm anyway.

Starting with Euro 2016, the field will be expanded from 16 teams to 24, and there will be six groups of four teams as opposed to four groups in the final competition.

On the surface, it seems like a nice idea as the expansion will allow more teams to join the party and get the chance to enjoy playing on a big stage.

One of the world's best players, Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, didn't have the chance to play in this summer's World Cup in Brazil because his team failed to qualify, robbing soccer fans of the chance to watch his brilliance in action.

But in the 24-team Euro field, Sweden should have a great chance to reach the final round of the tournament.

One of the best moments of Euro 2012 was seeing the support for the Ireland national team, which was a surprise qualifier and lost all three of its matches in group play by a combined score of 9-1.

Even as the team was in the midst of a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Spain, Irish fans could be heard singing loudly and making the most of their brief time in the spotlight.

Certainly nobody would begrudge the Irish supporters the chance to enjoy that type of experience more often.

Then there is Wales, a country that qualified for the 1958 World Cup and Euro 1976 and nothing of note since that time.

The team's current crop of players includes world-class talents Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, but it is highly unlikely that either will ever grace the big stage of the World Cup.

But with the expanded Euro field, Wales may have the chance to return to a major tournament for the first time in 40 years.

Each of these reasons would appear to be a positive for the little guy, and they are, but what about the greater good of the competition itself?

With more teams qualifying for the final round of the competition, more of the life has been sucked out of the qualifying process.

The first round of qualifying over the past few days served up a number of surprise results, including the Netherlands losing to the Czech Republic, World Cup participant Bosnia-Herzegovina falling to lowly Cyprus and Portugal being edged by Albania.

In years past, these outcomes might have been cause for concern for teams like the Dutch, Portugal and Bosnia-Herzegovina as just one team from each qualifying group received an automatic bid.

However, this time around two teams from each group will get a berth in the final round, meaning those teams will have plenty of games to turn things around and finish in the top two, taking away a sense of urgency.

Euro qualifying has now become more of a training exercise for the elite clubs and will serve as a chance for those teams to play younger, more inexperienced players, while saving the regulars for when it really matters.

The expanded field not only has a big impact on qualifying, but also on the final tournament itself.

In Euro 2012, one group consisted of Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark, making for a highly competitive battle in which only two teams could advance.

However, with six groups in 2016, the heavyweight sides will be kept apart in the group stage, watering down that phase of the tournament and leaving much of the drama to unfold in the knockout round.

European soccer's governing body, UEFA, may have had its heart in the right place by extending more invitations to its big party. But the line for the bathroom is now too long and the hors devours have already been picked over.


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