Uefa says 24-team format could stay

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo scores their first goal at the Euro 2016 semi-final against Wales on July 6.
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo scores their first goal at the Euro 2016 semi-final against Wales on July 6. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Uefa believes the 24-team format, introduced for the first time at Euro 2016, is a success and will boost football in some of the continent's smaller nations, tournament director Martin Kallen said yesterday.

European football's governing body opted eight years ago to expand the competition from 16 to 24 teams. The additional eight places allowed Albania, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Slovakia and Wales to qualify for the first time.

Some of the newcomers have been particularly successful, including Northern Ireland, who reached the last 16, and quarter-finalists Iceland. Wales play Portugal in the semi-finals tonight.

"People were anxious the format might not work but it has worked," Kallen said. "We have seen two teams (Iceland and Wales) going further than anybody believed they would, and that's positive."

Some people have criticised the new format, saying it has not increased the excitement of the tournament and suggesting that Wales and Northern Ireland would have qualified for a 16-team affair.

But Kallen said the less glamorous teams have been supported by some of the most passionate fans in the tournament.

"This has opened new areas for football," he said. "I think there will be a boom in those countries and I think we will see more kids there playing football."

The 24-team format will continue at the 2020 edition and Kallen suggested Uefa might stick to it after that. "We don't know yet but at the moment, it's the format we're looking at - because it's been very positive," he said.

The governing body has faced criticism, however, for the way it allocated tickets to the associations. Ireland manager Martin O'Neill called the system unfair.

But Kallen said a new system will be in place, "which will give us much more flexibility for the future".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2016, with the headline 'Uefa says 24-team format could stay'. Print Edition | Subscribe