Ultimately it depends who you ask. If you were to ask Portugal fans they would say most definitely but if you were to ask a majority of fans watching the tournament they would have probably said that it should have been left at 16.
Yes more teams equals more football and in theory that isn’t a bad thing but the fact that only 8 teams left the competition after the group stages made the first three games for each side somewhat of an exhibition before the real thing started a fortnight later.
Portugal would be the true case in point here, the fact that they drew all their group matches and could only finish third meant they were fortunate enough to progress to the Round of 16 as one of the four best third place sides
Had the tournament only had 16 teams then they wouldn’t have been afforded that safety net and would have been sent packing at the first stage of the competition. Yes the enlarged tournament format meant that there would be no dead rubbers in the group stages but it also created some incredibly stifling football.
Portugal and Hungary almost came to a standstill during their 3-3 draw once news had got through that they would both move on to the knockout stages while Northern Ireland were doing the best and although succeeded at damage limitation against Germany it didn’t create a very good spectacle.
Yes the enlarged tournament gave us great memories such as Iceland’s progression to the Quarter Finals and Wales going one step further but if the tournament was only 16 teams thanks to their qualification record they would have qualified anyway.
It may have also meant that nearly the whole of Great Britain and Ireland (sorry Scotland) were there and due to it’s close proximity to France it allowed a whole legion of fans to make the short trip over to the tournament. That includes me and although I only watched Switzerland v Poland the fact that there was so much Football on offer meant it gave me a once in a lifetime opportunity, so for that I must be grateful.
So where do UEFA go from here? – They have already announced that they will be keeping the same format for the 2020 edition of the competition but have mentioned that the format could be possible to change for future editions.
It gets all the more complicated for 2020 when the UEFA Nations League also plays a part in who qualifies. The final four places will be made up from qualifies of each of the four Nations League divisions meaning we could see a side like Georgia or Kazhakstan qualify for the finals.
That again could cause it’s own problems as if you were to then get someone of the calibre of the former Soviet Republics in the group stages then the draw all of a sudden becomes very favourable and all the more lop sided.
Do they bite the bullet and extend it to 32 teams, yes it may make qualifying for the competition somewhat of a nonsense but at least that way we would be back to a proper tournament format and not having to shoehorn extra teams out of the group stages.
For many 16 teams was the optimum number, every group was a group of death. Lose two matches and you were going home. It may have created some dead rubbers in the final group games but the stakes were a lot higher in getting there.
But at always corporate greed has got in the way and UEFA have expanded the tournament, one thing you know for certain is that they certainly won’t reduce the number of teams back to 16. Like the Champions League this competition over the year has only gone in one direction and that is bigger.
Unfortunately bigger isn’t necessarily better though but with the amount of teams they do have it’s probably the only way they can run the tournament. Four groups of Six teams with the top two qualifying to the quarter finals would only create a whole host of meaningless matches in the group stages and would do nothing to exacerbate the problem.
Some have suggested a scaling back to 20 teams and following the Rugby World Cup format and having four groups of 5 teams but that would mean an odd number of teams and one side finishing up before everyone else with the prospect of other sides knowing what results they need to advance with a game to spare
Whichever way you look at it 24 teams is not a perfect number so UEFA are making do the best they can, they are a real winners as a larger tournament swells their coffers all too nicely but as we saw from the offering of the last few weeks it doesn’t necessarily create the best competitions.
But like it or loathe it we are going to have to do with this format for a while yet. Roll on World Cup Russia 2018 when hopefully the group stages may be a little bit more exciting.