With the football world’s attention firmly fixed on South Africa and the impending World Cup, it has totally slipped under the radar that something quite significant for European football will happen on Friday May 28.
What many people don’t know (I confess I’d totally forgotten about it too) is that on that day, UEFA will decide which country will win the right to host EURO 2016.
There are three countries still in the running to be hosts: Turkey, Italy and France. Each country nominated twelve stadia but three of those will be designated as backups should the bid be successful.
The Turkish bid, their third consecutive for the EURO’s, involves 7 new stadiums being constructed, 6 of them for the main stadia (Turkey is the only country to have already nominated it’s backups and one of those will be new) and will renovate 5 existing stadia (3 main and 2 backup). This might be a bit of a concern for UEFA as they’ve had all kinds of problems with Ukraine falling behind schedule on stadium construction and improvements to infrastructure. I’m not suggesting that Turkey will have the same problems but I’m not sure if UEFA would want to risk having to go down that road again despite Turkey pledging about Î1bn and Turkish fans being some of the most passionate/completely crazy anywhere in the world. There is also the worry of taking the tournament to a country that hasn’t hosted a major tournament before so it is a bit of an unknown quantity.
The Italian bid involves building four new stadia and improving another six, with the San Siro in Milan and Rome’s Stadio Olimpico being deemed already good enough. Italian stadia are notoriously run down and need improvements drastically. The Italian infrastructure is okay but there are apparently concerns that the Stadio Olimpico is unsuitable to host a major final and that the ticket sales projections Italy provided UEFA were too optimistic. Italy was soundly beaten by the Poland/Ukraine bid for EURO 2012 and there may be still some questions unanswered about Italy’s ability to deliver.
The French bid involves building 4 new stadia, renovating six, with the Parc de Princes and Stade de France in Paris already being up to scratch. The head French football authorities and the Secretary of State for Sports recently had a public argument over the direction of French football but I still think France has the strongest bid, having delivered a good World Cup in 1998. However, UEFA and logic aren’t always the best of friends so anything may happen.
EURO 2008 was one of the best football tournaments in recent memory so UEFA have responded with their usual ‘if it ain’t broke, break it’ approach to European competition and have expanded the number of teams from 16 to 24. That’s a large number when you consider that UEFA currently has 53 members, so nearly half will be qualify to play in the tournament.
One of the best things about the 2008 competition was that teams had to go for it. With three group games and by and large with 4 strong teams per group, you knew you had to go hard or go home. In the new format with 6 groups and a round of 16, a team can finish third and progress and there’s a good chance that the group that these three teams come out of will contain one of the weaker European nations and it could lead to a far less competitive and enjoyable to watch, group stage.
While I’m normally in favour of giving some of the smaller countries a chance, (who knows even my Wales may make it!) in my opinion, this will diminish the achievement of a smaller country qualifying. When Latvia made it in to EURO 2004, which was a genuine achievement they can be proud of, knowing they had to beat out some stiff competition to get in. Under the new system, they would stand a better chance of getting in, but somehow it wouldn’t be as special.
Who do you want to win the bid? Who do you think will actually get it?