Euro 2012: Entertainment will suffer when Euros turn into pale imitation of World Cup
Ukraine failures show bigger is not always better with 24-team Platini folly looming, writes Paul Wilson
The sequel to the game of two halves is the tournament of two halves. The only problem with describing Euro 2012 as such is that its halves are not equal.
Poland is having far more than its fair share of the fun and games, while Ukraine has staged memorable matches without really getting into the swing, an unrelaxed presence at the far end of the party, like a worried parent keeping an eye on the noise and expense.
Co-hosting is never ideal, even without complications such as different currencies and time zones, but where it has worked reasonably well -- the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, say, or Euro 2000 in the Netherlands and Belgium -- the two partners have been of more or less similar status. That has not been the case here. Ukraine is not as developed as Poland, as familiar with visitors, or as easy to get around.
From Ukraine come all the travellers' tales of woe, from flight disruptions to grasping, absurdly overpriced hotels, from language difficulties to subdued match-day atmospheres due to empty seats and limited opportunities for fans to socialise in cafés and bars near stadiums -- it would be unfair to blame Ukraine for the Donetsk thunderstorm, that was just bad luck, but there were tales aplenty of fans in the Ukraine getting a metaphorical soaking even before the heavens opened.
Poland seemed to know what to expect and was ready to deliver; Ukraine is still finding out.
The weaker partner will be much better prepared the next time UEFA come calling, though realistically that is not going to happen. People are already starting to wonder why Poland did not go it alone, as the much smaller Portugal did with some success in 2004. Ukraine has brought a financial contribution and a couple of shiny new stadiums and airport terminals to the party, but that is insufficient compensation for the vast distances and extra inconvenience foisted on football followers.
Put simply, if UEFA cared one jot about the welfare and comfort of paying football fans -- which it does not -- it would never allow such an unwieldy alliance again. The whole point of a European Championship is that it is not a sprawling World Cup, but rather a streamlined festival of football that can be watched in one place in little over a fortnight. That is what fans think, anyway. UEFA do not, otherwise plans to increase the number of teams from 16 to 24 from France 2016 onwards would never have got off the ground.
France is a splendid venue for a tournament but 24 teams is too many. If Michel Platini thinks there are that many good teams in Europe he is wrong, though there might just be 24 sets of fans willing to boost tournament coffers and increase television viewing figures.
Look at what has just happened in this tournament, with fancied Holland in trouble from day one after losing their first match and Italy now sweating after going two games without a win, and you can see what is likely to be lost in an expanded tournament.
Instead of finding themselves in a group of death, Holland would probably be top seeds in a group featuring a couple of no-hopers. The tedium of the qualifying cycle (decent European teams are going to have to be fairly abysmal to miss out on a cut of 24) would then be extended to the group stage of the tournament proper, and the real test would only start in the second stage when top teams are pitted against each other. Once the Euros have been turned into a pale imitation of the World Cup, people will look back and wonder where the entertainment went.
There are only just over 50 nations affiliated to UEFA for the purposes of qualifying, so to have almost half that many at the finals is patently silly. Around a quarter seems about right, and in terms of divisibility 16 is such a perfect number, yet this battle has already been lost.
Leaving logistical complications aside, the quality of football on show at Euro 2012 has been satisfyingly high if slightly uneven. No teams have been unduly negative or defensive, though Holland may come to regret not utilising all the attacking flair at their disposal. Despite a reduced number of crosses -- that's Spain's influence at work -- a surprisingly high number of headed goals have been scored, which may be due to the presence of extra officials on the byline deterring players from the usual pushing and wrestling in the area.
Many feel TV technology would be a better aid to the main match official than extra assistants, though it can only be brought to bear after the event. If extra pairs of eyes really are cutting down on sneaky fouls and surreptitious blocks inside the area, UEFA deserve credit for getting something right. While six officials per game feels like overkill, should the rest of the tournament proceed as smoothly, without refereeing fiascos or phantom goals, an improvement might have been made.
The quality of the goals in Germany's win over Holland was truly memorable, and the Italy-Spain game was also pleasing on the eye, even if the Italians confirmed Cesare Prandelli's worst fears by not looking half so good when confronted with a team they were expected to beat, in Croatia.
Prandelli shrewdly remarked that life becomes much simpler when you are playing Spain, because no one imagines you will win and you need all your concentration just to contain them, yet how far you progress in the tournament depends upon how well you play against everyone else.
Who can prevent a third successive Spanish success? There was nothing exceptional from Portugal, Holland, France, Russia or Italy in the group stage.
But the Germans are still masters at growing into tournaments. And they have a player called Gomez.
Sunday Indo Sport