Much has been made of the since-deposed, arch-scoundrel Michel Platini’s decision to expand the European Championships from 16 to 24 teams. With the inclusion of teams from the sheer periphery of European football – and the fact that almost nobody bar Ireland and Albania is likely to be knocked out at the group stage – critics have lambasted a decision which, they say, has ensured a dilution of quality and drama in what was once a sure-fire blockbuster from start to finish. In truth, it is hard to envisage – especially given Platini’s track record of corruption – that the decision to expand had much to do with football, but had everything to do with television money. Furthermore, it is largely difficult to disagree with the critics. There is little, save for the fact that they used to run an empire together, to whet the appetite about Austria v Hungary, for instance.
However, despite these predominantly unwelcome alterations to an entirely unbroken format, there is still much to look forward to this summer. One such cause for excitement actually has the expanded tournament largely to thank: the increased home nations quota. In fact, with the exception of Scotland – and, erm, Gibraltar – we are at full capacity, with Wales, Northern Ireland and England all joining the Republic of Ireland in France next month. All of which means there will be ample opportunity to adopt to show our united British spirit and cheer on the neighbours; said spirit, one presumes however, will be in rather short supply on Thursday 16th June, as England meet Wales in the group stages.
In pan-British unity isn’t for you, there is also the fact that nobody has even the slightest clue who is going to win it. Spain’s dismal showing at the last World Cup was followed by an edgy ride to France, and their current crop is certainly not as all-conquering as the side that cantered to victory in 2008 and 2012. Add to this the fact that the Dutch are notably absent, the French are always worth a bet on home soil but have failed to produce turn up to a major tournament for a decade, and Germany don’t seem quite as imperious as two years ago, and Euro 2016 certainly is an intriguing prospect. And then there’s England. With Kane, Alli, Dier and Vardy ensuring that English exuberance had top billing in this season’s Premier League, there is a feeling that maybe, just maybe, this could be our year. However, we have been here before…
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