On the 19th of June 2016, Romania and Albania will meet at Stade des Lumières in Lyon. A football match between these countries will have the attractiveness of watching paint dry on a wall. We, the football fans, do not deserve such punishment…
My first ever memory of a European tournament is back in 1996 when it was held in England. It was the 13th of June 1996 and Dorinel Munteanu’s long-range shot bounced down off the bar and although everyone saw the ball cross the line, it wasn’t adjudged a goal by the Danish referee Peter Mikkelsen. Bulgaria went on to win that game 1-0 thanks to a superb individual goal by Hristo Stoichkov in the third minute and Romania became the first team to exit the tournament following the defeat by their Eastern European neighbours at St James’ Park.
Romania had a tough group, as well as facing the Bulgarians, they were pitted against Youri Djorkaeff’s France and Hierro’s Spain. The tournament wasn’t one to remember for any Romanian after finishing bottom of the group after three straight losses with just a solitary goal scored.
Four years later, in Belgium and the Netherlands, Romania were once again awarded a difficult group with Zinedine Zidane’s France, Luis Figo’s Portugal and Oliver Kahn’s Germany with Euro 2000 being probably the last tournament for what was a tremendous generation of football players. That tournament also represented Gheorghe Hagi’s last hurrah on the international stage – a sad way to finish a glittering career after being sent-off in the 2-0 defeat courtesy of goals from Francesco Totti and Filippo Inzaghi.
Tricolorii missed out on Euro 2004 but were present again in 2008 where they were drawn in Group C with Italy, France and Netherlands. It was a tough ask for the Romanians to get out of the Group so it was no surprise that they went out in the First Round. That said, it was a positive performance in Austria and Switzerland with creditable draws against both France and Italy before losing to the Netherlands in the final game in Bern.
Reverting back to the present, Romania’s group at this summer’s European Championship is made up of France, Albania and Switzerland. If you look at the other groups as well, you can also see national teams such as the ones of Iceland, Austria, Hungary and Northern Ireland. To me, it seems like a big difference compared to yesteryear. I am not trying to take the merits of these national sides away nor to not recognize the hard-work and dedication that they’ve shown during the Qualifying Rounds but when you see the Group Stages of this year’s tournament, with six groups instead of four and the fact that even the third best team in the group can qualify for the next phase, you can’t avoid asking a few cynical questions.
The European Championship used to be a tremendously tough competition, there were times when countries such Italy could not even qualify from their group, bringing about a lot of drama and heartache among their tifosi and now, you can finish the group third but can still go through and win the tournament.
The 2016 UEFA European Championship will be the fifteenth edition of the UEFA European Championship and for the first time, the European Championship final tournament will be contested by 24 teams, having been expanded from the 16-team format used since 1996.
In the summer of 2008, at a meeting in Bordeaux, the UEFA Executive Committee concluded that a change was needed and approved the expansion of the Finals. This new format brings a total of 51 matches, compared with 31 matches in the previous sixteen team format, to be played over a period of one month. FIFA’s current President, Gianni Infantino, who was at that time UEFA’s General Secretary, described the format back then as being “not ideal” due to the need for third-ranked teams in the Group Stage advancing, which inevitably leads to a difficulty in preventing cases where countries might be able to know in advance what results they need to qualify for the next round, lending to a lack of suspense for the supporters.
More teams sealing qualification means more happy national Football Federations, more money involved but also poorer football and that’s what matters for us, the football fans. I’ve kept trying to answer this question but I can’t simply see where or what we actually gain. Moreover, if you take a closer look, you realize that this new format is perfect for everyone except for us, the lovers of the beautiful game.
With 24 national sides instead of only 16, you have more matches to be played and automatically more games being broadcast by the television companies, therefore more money made by UEFA from the broadcasting rights, commercial activities and tickets. Twenty-four teams qualifiers also means that you have more Football Federations satisfied with their achievements, Federations which are boasted in their countries for their success, although in the classic format, would have merely reached the Group Stages. But does that matter now? Executives will be happy to tell their people that they have done a terrific job in qualifying for the European Championship – something that was possibly not possible before.
High revenues for UEFA means also revenues redirected towards the aforementioned national Football Federations. The Romanian Football Federation should receive around €8,000,000 from UEFA for their “amazing performance” of finishing second in a Group that contained Greece, Faroe Islands, Finland, Hungary and Northern Ireland. And with such a huge income on offer after such a “difficult” task in the Qualifiers, why would you be content with the actual format of the European Championships? Why wouldn’t you also be happy with the current management of UEFA, continue with them and give them your vote at the next elections? We persist with this general state of happiness and contentment but in fact it hides the real problems that European football faces.
Is everybody happy?
UEFA has high revenues, the Federations are boasting, the supporters are going to the stadiums – the list goes on but if you look close enough, it’s all a lie. The 2016 UEFA European Championship is a competition created to please a lot of the involved parties but the there is one thing that is being ignored; what happens on the pitch. It’s all a lie. On the 19th of June 2016, Romania and Albania will meet at Stade des Lumières in Lyon – A football match that can be compared to paint drying. We, the football fans, do not deserve such punishment…