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UEFA expansion benefits nobody
3:31pm Tuesday 25th February 2014 in Sport
IN extending the European Championships to include 24 teams from Euro 2016, UEFA scored a spectacular own goal.
Rather than increasing the standard, as Europe's governing body claims it will, the competition is merely devalued.
It is flawed from the off because the qualifying stage will become a virtual procession to France due to the expanded format.
Sunday's draw pitted England in Group 'E' with Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and San Marino.
With the top two teams qualifying automatically, how bad would Roy Hodgson's men have to be in order to miss out? In fact, it would seem harder not to qualify.
Switzerland are the only team in that quintet that should even remotely trouble England, with the others as good as walk-overs.
And before anyone clamours that there are no easy games these days, I can assure you that there are. San Marino certainly is.
Instead of a more inclusive tournament, what UEFA should have done is left a perfectly good tournament alone and concentrate on how to do away with all these miss matches.
The most obvious solution would be to introduce either a pre-qualifying competition or a two-tier system.
Would it not be more beneficial to the likes of San Marino et al if they played teams of their own standard? That way there is a chance they would progress as footballers rather than being thrashed all the time, which benefits nobody.
The teams at the top would then be promoted into the top tier and join the main qualifying groups, having earned the right to be there.
Similarly, the bigger, established nations would face meaningful opposition, which would give fixtures an edge rather than an air of formality.
Although the logistics would take some ironing out, under this system there would be no doubt as to who the best teams were by the time 16 of them had reached the finals.