And so ends the last 16-team European Championship. What a ride. From Robert Lewandowski’s headed goal barely a quarter-hour into the tournament to Jordi Alba’s sublime strike against Italy following a typically exquisite Xavi Hernandez pass, Euro 2012 provided just about everything one could hope to see in a major tournament.
There were goals. Lots of them. Good ones. And just three red cards—none of them in the knockout stages. The Netherlands provided the implosion; Italy provided the positive storylines. Spain, to no one’s surprise, provided the best football. Say what you want about the ticki-tacka—it is a style that has defined a generation at both club and international levels; it has provided dynasties at both.
Sport, the cliché goes, is remembered for dynasties. Euro 2012 provided one of those, too.
But it will be different next time. Very different. The format that has done so much to make the European Championship the most compelling competition on the international calendar (and certainly more watchable than the last World Cup) is about to undergo a major overhaul. Eight teams will be added to the mix four years from now. Nearly half the UEFA membership will participate in the finals of Euro 2016.
The obvious fallout is a likely dilution of the playing field. The tournament we just saw contained 31 matches, each of them meaningful and competitive. All four groups went down to the last day. Ahead of the final round of matches 14 teams were still in contention for the quarterfinals.
It will be a much different story when the continent reconvenes in France. But then, that competition might also be the last of something. UEFA president Michel Platini has openly talked about spreading Euro 2020 throughout the continent. A quarterfinal in Brussels; a final in Istanbul, for example.
It’s sure to be an unpopular idea, but it’s also the way tournament football is headed.
In 2009 I asked Tim Vickery (BBC’s South American football expert and an occasional guest of the Footy Show) about expanding major competitions. His answer was that more teams and bigger tournaments meant fewer and fewer countries would be able to host the events. “I just don’t know how you’d do it in organisational terms,” he said.
Platini’s pan-European Championship plan would address that as significant pressure would be taken off the prospective host country, as there wouldn’t actually be a host country. Airport upgrades and stadium construction (the signature infrastructure projects of European Championships and World Cups) wouldn’t be required, and, he added, European cities are geographically close to one another, anyway.
Like it or not, this is exactly where tournament football is heading, and if not in 2020 than sometime soon after that. Television revenue trumps all when it comes to UEFA and FIFA, and if getting more of that money means parting with the tradition of host countries (which are often a source of headaches) then so be it.
I hope you enjoyed the last three weeks. Chances are you will never find a European Championship quite as pleasurable ever again.
A final word before my summer holidays…
A few days before the start of Euro 2012 I found myself sitting next to a Ukrainian fellow at my local pub. He was new in town and didn’t speak much English, and my Ukrainian isn’t exactly polished, or existent.
Nevertheless a single word kicked off an awkward conversation, if you can call it that. The word: Euro.
His face lit up with understanding when I said it. From there we developed a method of communication where one of us would mention a player, team or city and the other would either nod or shake his head. He supported Dinamo Kiev. I told him I enjoyed watching Shakhtar Donetsk, mostly for their Brazilian contingent.
He was surprised that I nodded when he mentioned Andriy Yarmolenko. I could tell by his enthusiasm that the Dinamo winger would be one of the young players to watch at the European Championship. He was.
The point I’m making is this: cliché’s, especially about football, tend to drive me crazy. But one thing I’ve learned, and was reminded of that evening, is that football truly is a universal language.
Have a good summer.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer