Now that the dust has settled and eight teams have been cast aside, it’s a good time to evaluate the expanded Euro 2016, writes WADE PRETORIUS.
Before a ball was kicked off earlier this month, I must admit that I was firmly in the camp that voted OUT to the expanded 24-team event. Why? More minnows equals more problems. But some retrospection, combined with an awful lot of time spent in front of the telly, and then on our Opta-powered match centre analysing the key player’s contributions, has led me to perform a dramatic u-turn and claim boldly that Uefa got it spot on. Here’s why…
Northern Ireland. They have been a revelation, their fans have been some of the best and they full deserve their place in the knockout round, albeit as a lucky loser or one of the best third placed teams. There 1-0 loss against giants and world champions Germany was everything that is right about the expansion. The underdogs, buoyed by their fanatical support, doing what was needed (even if it meant parking the bus) against the goliath of football.
The best players have stepped up to add shine to the event, even if it took Cristiano Ronaldo a little longer to catch up. Real Madrid stars Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos, Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos have all been in the headlines as have the likes of Dimitri Payet and Belgium ace duo Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne.
The best competitions need the best players to deliver and as anticipation builds for the round of 16 which kicks off tomorrow, it is mostly due to the debate that rages on as fans attempt to predict the winner of Gerard Pique’s Spain against Gianluigi Buffon or can Rakitic, Modric and Perisic down Portugal with Ronaldo leading the line. Euro organisers must be delighted that the biggest names have arrived in the last 16 and dazzled the audiences with their skills.
British success. Hard to ignore what is going on at the UK at the moment with the referendum vote, football fans from that region can look to their national teams for some off-field distraction. South Africans have a long relationship with the Premier League with the Three Lions many local fans second, or in some instances even first, teams to support. The knock-on of that is many want Ireland to do well with Roy Keane in the coaching mix and a splattering of Premier League players in the fold for the likes of Wales and Northern Ireland.
Without the expanded tournament there would be no Wales and Northern Ireland. No Will Griggs is on fire chant. No crazy Iceland commentator losing his mind. No Gabor Kirby’s tracksuit pants nor his record for being the oldest player in the history of the competition. There probably wouldn’t be Ireland at the event for that matter.
If the 16-team Euros had continued, would Croatia be guaranteed a spot in the finals? What about the likes of Hungary, Poland and Slovakia? These teams have proved that they deserve to be there against the very best on the continent. The addition of 8 teams has been fantastic and long may it continue, even if you have to suffer through another 90 minute Albania v Romania snorefest.
The pros have far outweigh the cons and we are only just past the group stages.
My vote? I’m all in for the current format. Any chance of taking it to 32 teams?