Saturday 22 October 2016

Decision to expand tournament vindicated

Wales' Gareth Bale
Wales' Gareth Bale

It was much derided when announced but UEFA's decision to expand the Euro 2016 championship to 24 teams has revitalised the qualifying competition with a host of countries daring to dream of making it to a major tournament, often for the first time.

At the halfway stage, countries such a Wales, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Albania and Norway, who have either never qualified for a major finals or been absent for years, are all in contention for a place in France next year.

At the same time traditional powers such a Italy, Germany, Netherlands, and holders Spain have all dropped points, while only England and Slovakia hold 100 percent records with five matches played and five to come.

The English FA, for example, might have been less than happy to play the likes of San Marino, Estonia and Lithuania, but there is another side to the argument with far more meaningful matches being played because there are more slots available.

It is now nearly seven years since UEFA president Michel Platini announced the expansion of the finals from 16 teams, and faced heavy criticism that he had destroyed the "perfect format" and that by having 24, almost half of UEFA's members, the tournament would be devalued.

But he now has good reason to defend the decision, initially instigated by his former general secretary, David Taylor of Scotland, who died last year.

"David must be credited for this and it is just a shame he did not live long enough to see it happen," Platini said.

"He was right because look at the way the competition has opened up."

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