The Good and the Bad Features of the Euro 2020 Format
Most big tournaments in soccer have seen various changes in their structure throughout the years. The European Championship is not an exception. We saw several innovations in the format of the competition for the 2016 edition, and they will be back in 2020.
They influence the number of teams, the group stages, and the knockout stage. On top of that, there is a completely new change in the locations of the 2020 European Championship.
If you ask UEFA, it’s all for the good of the tournament. I’m not so certain, though, so let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the 2020 soccer European Championship format.
For the purpose of this post, I’ve used a combination of my impressions from 2016, my personal opinion, and some objective facts.
European Championship Format Changes Explained
Before I get to the main advantages and disadvantages, let me briefly explain what changed in 2016 and the new things in 2020. For a start, we have more teams in the finals. The previous editions of the Euros featured 16 teams that formed four groups.
The first two teams in each of them would then progress to the knockouts. We had three rounds of direct eliminations: quarterfinals, semifinals, and the final.
In the Euro 2020 final stage, there will be 24 teams instead, similar to 2016’s edition. They will be separated into six groups. The best two nations from each group and the six third-placed countries will earn a place in the knockout stage.
That adds another round, as the eliminations start from the round of 16 instead of the quarterfinals as it was before 2016. That means that the eventual champion will have to beat one more opponent in the knockouts.
The big change in the format of the European Championship finals for 2020 is related to the locations. In the past, one or two countries would host the tournament.
This time around, it will be held across several different cities on the continent. You can learn more details about each location and stadium on the UEFA official website if you are interested.
It must be noted that the change in the location might be only temporary. According to UEFA, it’s a one-off decision because of the 60th anniversary of the tournament.
That’s why my main focus is on the format change that is permanent and already established since 2016. I still include some thoughts on the locations, though.
With that in mind, let’s proceed to the pros and cons of each innovation.
Pros of the Current European Championship Format
I will start with the positives of the Euro 2020 format.
More Fans Will Watch Their Country in the Finals
Europe is arguably the most competitive continent when it comes to soccer. A quick look at the current FIFA rankings shows that six of the top ten countries are from the region.
The traditional superpowers are Germany, France, Italy, Spain, England, the Netherlands, and Portugal. If you add the likes of Croatia, Belgium, Switzerland, and several others, it’s easy to see that there are so many strong nations.
That put the countries that were not in the top 15 or 20 in an almost impossible position. Many of them could not qualify for the final stages of the European Championships for decades, despite having solid teams at times.
For example, the legendary Ryan Giggs never had the chance to represent Wales at the biggest forum on the continent. In comparison, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey not only led the country to the finals, but they reached the last 4 in 2016.
The new format allows great players from smaller countries the chance for something big and gives the fans unforgettable emotions, as we saw in Portugal 2016.
This one will be present in the cons list too, but from the perspective of the players. Here, I’m thinking about the fans. If you love soccer, you probably love World Cups, Euros, Copa America, and similar summer tournaments.
I’ve been watching almost every game from such events since I was a kid. International soccer at the highest level brings something unique that you can’t find during the club season.
I believe that millions love the fact that there are more games during the European Championship.
It’s Easier to Attend the Euros
One of the positives that comes from the different locations is that each fan will now have a much easier path to the games. The costs of visiting another country that could often be far from your own were a huge problem, especially for the poorer regions of Europa.
In 2020, there’s a chance your country is part of the action. Even if that’s not the case, some of the neighbors will be hosting games, so the costs and the travel times are much lower.
For example, Eastern Europeans could go to Bucharest, Budapest, or Saint Petersburg. There are plenty of locations in Central Europe, and the western part of the continent has London, Glasgow, Dublin, and Bilbao as options.
Cons of the Current European Championship Format
With the upsides covered, let’s take a look at the downsides of the 2020 format of the Euros.
It’s time to take a look at the extended number of games from the players’ perspective. Most of the international athletes already have a tight schedule. They have to participate in domestic leagues and cups, UEFA club competitions, the Nations Cup, World Cup qualifiers, and so on.
It’s a busy schedule, and the only time they have for rest is in the summer. Their vacation is reduced because of the Euros, and the new format means that the top teams spend even more time training and playing.
That increases the risk of injuries and leads to fatigue. As a natural consequence, club soccer also suffers in the long run.
Lower Chance of Surprises
The smaller teams will have a higher chance to play in the Euros and even reach the knockouts. However, their chances to go all the way or at least play in the last 4 go down under the UEFA rules.
The larger number of teams in the finals, the progress of the six top third-placed sides from the groups, and the additional round of knockouts make it harder for every underdog.
Fewer favorites will be eliminated early, and the weaker nations will have to beat more opponents. The miracles performed by Greece in 2004 and Denmark in 1991 are less likely to happen from now on.
Euro 2016 was the perfect example of what we could expect in the future. Countries like Slovakia, Northern Ireland, Hungary, and Iceland reached the knockouts. However, the last four included three superpowers such as France, Germany, and Portugal.
The only exception was Wales, which had stars like Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale. The team was able to surprise the world, but if this was the shorter format, one could argue that Wales could’ve actually won it.
I expect to see only top teams winning the European Championship in the near future, and that’s a bit sad.
Lower Quality of the Games
The new structure also opens the door to weaker teams that don’t bring much to the table. They have the chance to sneak through to the finals. While these countries will be delighted to take part, it decreases the quality for the rest of the world.
The neutrals don’t really want to watch smaller countries that employ negative tactics against the big guns. It leads to plenty of boring games, as we’ve seen in the World Cup ever since the competition featured 32 teams.
The group stages are often full of dull games, and there’s a risk for the same to happen with the Euros.
On top of that, the rule for the best third teams is working in the same direction. A good example is the game between England and Slovakia in 2016. The underdog knew that a draw would be enough to secure a place in the last round, so it went out defending at all costs.
The result was an unwatchable 0-0 tie that was only possible because neither team needed to attack. While this has happened before under the old format of the European Championships, it will happen more in the future.
The groups will finish on different days, so the later groups will often end up in a position in which the draw suits both sides. They won’t have an incentive to attack, so we will see boring matches that entertain no one.
Higher Costs to Follow Your Team Around
The last downside I want to talk about is related to the locations. In 2020, it would be hard to follow your team around. The group stages will take place in the same country, so that’s fine.
However, if your nation reaches the knockouts, you will likely have to travel to a place that’s far away. That’s a big deal and would make it difficult and costly for the fans.
In my personal opinion, the negatives of the current format of the European Championship outweigh the positives. Even if we exclude the 2020 innovation about the locations, the 24-team idea was bad to begin with.
The positives were embraced in 2016, but my prediction is that they will be replaced by the disappointment that comes from the downsides in 2020 and the future Euros.
What do you think about the matter? Feel free to share your opinion in the comments section below.
And for more content, please visit the soccer section of our blog.