independent

Monday 21 April 2014

France may play pointless Euro 2016 qualifiers

France's forward Karim Benzema (L) celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's second goal during the 2014 World Cup qualifying play-off second leg football match between France and Ukraine at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, outside Paris, on November 19, 2013.  AFP PHOTO / LIONEL BONAVENTURE        (Photo credit should read LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)
The French have been lined up as the first host nation of a major competition to take part in its preliminary rounds.

Hosts of European Championships in 2016 will still qualify automatically, but may play in preliminary rounds to ensure they play worthwhile friendlies.

The French have been lined up as the first host nation of a major competition to take part in its preliminary rounds, with European football's governing body expected to wave through changes to the regulations for its quadrennial showpiece at its executive committee meeting, which starts on Thursday.

Those changes would mean France joining Uefa’s 53 other member associations in next month’s qualifying draw in Nice, which will see each country placed in one of nine groups. Eight of those groups would contain six teams and one would contain five prior to the addition of France to compete the line-up.

However, the French would still qualify for the tournament automatically as hosts, with the results of their group matches not counting towards any team’s points total.

Uefa confirmed its intention to introduce the radical concept in its Euro 2016 regulations, article 21.02 of which reads: “The teams drawn into the group of five teams will have France added to their group for the purpose of playing centralised friendlies.”

European football’s governing body claimed the change would solve more than one problem experienced by host nations of major tournaments.

It said the main issue was the difficulty that country had organising worthwhile friendlies during the two-year build-up to the finals, particularly against teams from the same confederation.

It is understood Poland and Ukraine both encountered that problem ahead of co-hosting Euro 2012.

Uefa also wants to improve the dwindling profile of international football, having already discussed replacing international friendlies with a new ‘Nations League’.

That proposal, which would see all 54 Uefa member nations compete across nine divisions – with promotion and relegation between them and prize money for the ultimate champions – is expected to be discussed again at this week’s ExCo.

Michel Platini’s presidency has already seen the European Championship expanded to 24 teams and Euro 2020 become a pan-European tournament, while next season will herald the start of the so-called “week of football”, in which qualifiers will take place across six days to maximise viewers.

Platini had been accused of favouring his native France last year when he helped ensure they were not picked in the dreaded Pot X during the World Cup draw in Brazil, a decision which saw them avoid a difficult group.

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