Euro 2016: New Euro vision a hit-and-miss

(From left) Iceland forward Johann Berg Gudmundsson, midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, midfielder Aron Gunnarsson and goalkeeper Hannes Thor Halldorsson in high spirits after their 2-1 win over Austria.
(From left) Iceland forward Johann Berg Gudmundsson, midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, midfielder Aron Gunnarsson and goalkeeper Hannes Thor Halldorsson in high spirits after their 2-1 win over Austria.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Minnows surprising and big names flopping throw up topsy-turvy draw for the round of 16

A wind of change blew through Europe yesterday. The British block of England, Wales and Northern Ireland remained. Even if they had no business being there, Ireland stayed, too. The bureaucrats won the day but the natural order on the continent has been shaken and stirred.

Michel Platini's diktat to expand the tournament from 16 to 24 teams, factored with Uefa's coefficient system that seeded the six groups in this year's European Championship produced a lopsided draw for the round of 16.

Add to that the complicated manner of determining four of the best third-placed sides that includes taking disciplinary records into consideration and you will have fans reaching for the headache pills.

After yesterday's conclusion of the group stage, the tournament is left with a top half of eight teams (Switzerland, Poland, Croatia, Portugal, Wales, Northern Ireland, Hungary and Belgium) that amassed a grand total of zilch international trophies.

In the other half, Germany, Italy, Spain, France and England have 20 major honours (11 World Cups and nine European Championships) among them. Slovakia, Ireland and Iceland form the rest of the chronically underwhelming draw.

In other words, the Euro 2016 final is already guaranteed to have at least one finalist who has never won a major tournament.

"There is a crazy imbalance in the draw for the second round, but those are the rules and we have to respect them," Italy coach Antonio Conte said.

Germany coach Joachim Low added that the qualification of some third-place finishers with only a few points was unfair to other teams who may have cruised through their group stage.

The bloated tournament, Platini's idea of reviving the game, had the support of 51 of Uefa's 54 member associations as the now-disgraced supremo promised to distribute television revenue to all of them.

One can also argue the progression of these smaller teams have added novelty and excitement.

But Switzerland versus Poland in the round of 16? Or how about Northern Ireland qualifying not because of its brilliant football but because of the blah format that punched its ticket as a third-best team (or a second-best loser, depending on your point of view).

IT IS WHAT IT IS

There is a crazy imbalance in the draw for the second round, but those are the rules and we have to respect them.

ANTONIO CONTE, Italy coach, on the lopsided draw in the round of 16.

Still, some of the so-called big teams have nobody to blame but themselves.

Cristiano Ronaldo posed and pouted, indignant that Iceland, a country he dismissed as a nation of "small mentality" dared to draw 1-1 with Portugal. His Portugal! At least, he remembered to smile for a wefie with a pitch invader.

The pick of the ties is Italy versus Spain but it had come to this as a result of the matadors' slip in losing to group winners Croatia, rather than the tournament format throwing up a truly top match.

Everywhere in the last 16, the runt of the litter made it through the gates with the thoroughbreds. Hungary, who finished top of Group F (ahead of third-placed Portugal, Ronaldo's Portugal!), are playing in their first major tournament in 30 years. And Wales, Group B winners, are playing their first since meeting Pele, now 75, at the 1958 World Cup as a 17-year-old.

Iceland? The world's 34th-ranked side are at their first Finals of any kind but already, the nation of just 330,000 (Jurong has an estimated 340,300 residents) and just 27 football pitches beat mighty Austria (world ranking 10th) 2-1 on Wednesday.

The conclusion of the group stage should have been a celebration of football in Europe, where the finest qualified on merit but it was a nightmare figuring who made the cut and who did not.

At least, the mental gymnastics will stop from now on, as the format will be straightforward knockout.

Just imagine, when the seedings took place in December - each team earned 30,000 points for a win, 10,000 for a draw, 501 points (no more, no less) for a goal scored, -500 for a goal conceded and deriving an average from the ranking points of Euro 2016 qualifiers (40 per cent weightage), ranking points from the 2014 World Cup qualifiers and Finals (40 per cent) and the Euro 2012 qualifiers and Finals (20 per cent).

Easy, huh.

Thanks, Uefa. Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Platini.

• Additional information from Reuters and Agence France-Presse

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2016, with the headline 'New Euro vision a hit-and-miss'. Print Edition | Subscribe