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We Need To Talk About How Dull The Euros Have Been So Far, And It's UEFA's Fault

We Need To Talk About How Dull The Euros Have Been So Far, And It's UEFA's Fault
By Gavin Cooney
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If a competition's entertainment value can be gauged by how much Jamie Vardy is enjoying himself (a reasonable barometer for this season's Premier League)  then last night the problem with the expansion of the European Championship was writ large. Slovakia began their game against England playing with a reasonably high line, one that allowed Vardy break beyond a trailing Slovak defence, ultimately spurning a one-on-one chance.

It was to be his final opportunity: Slovakia - having heard the news that Wales were consigning Russia to the foot of group B, retreated in the second half, showing an extreme suspicion to the concept of attack in order to cling to a draw which puts them in a very good position to qualify for the knockout stages. This idea of a side desperately defending a scoreless draw in order to finish third in a group benights, rather than beguiles a major tournament.

This is not, of course, Slovakia's fault: they are absolutely right to exploit the fact that just eight teams are eliminated from the group stage.

When the expansion of the tournament was confirmed, the fears of most that the flooding of the group stage with weak nations would ultimately corrupt the spectacle. This has ultimately happened: the group stages at Euro 2012 yielded 60 goals across 24 games. The goals have dropped noticeably at Euro 2016: in the 28 games that had taken place before today's Group C games, 51 goals have been scored.

What has been behind this drop in goals? It is not directly the fault of the weaker nations who have flooded the competition's extra spots: competition has been lit up by the lesser lights such as Northern Ireland, Iceland, Hungary, Albania, and most noticeably Wales.

 

Instead, the competition has been largely stunk out by some of the traditionally bigger nations: Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. All three of these teams finished third in their groups with the exception of Russia, who finished two points clear of Sweden (mightily helped by the awarding of three points following crowd trouble away to Montenegro) meaning we would have been spared the insipid exploits of the latter pair had the tournament remained at 16 teams. (Russia's poor performance under manager Stewart Lee is partly explained by injuries to key players Denisov, Shirokov and Dzagoev).

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The knowledge that progress can be ensured with a relatively low points total, teams have been content to sit in and protect the point with which they began the game. The change in the style of play from the 2014 World Cup has been sharp: Brazil's carnival was trademarked by sides willing to play on the counter-attack, a style encouraged by the fusion of the need for points and the reaction against Spain's tiki-taka.

This tournament has seen very few counter-attacking goals: Schweinsteiger against Ukraine, Payet against Albania and Belgian's first and third goals against Ireland are the goals that stand out/are etched deeply into the darkest recesses of our mind.

Euro 2016 has widened the margin of error, which, rather than encouraging sides to seize upon increased opportunities, has seen the opposite.

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Fortune may favour the brave, but UEFA have ensured teams need less fortune than ever before.

What were the alternatives to this imbalanced structure? There is virtually no ideal scenario in moving away from the beautiful symmetry of 16 teams. The 1982 World Cup featured 24 teams, eliminating half of them at the group stage. The remaining 12 teams were drawn into four groups of three, with the top team from each group advancing to the semi-finals. Better, but far from ideal.

The tournament has also been missing a truly good game this far: Andres Iniesta's sculpting of Turkey's destruction was highly satisfying, with the closing stages of Croatia/Czech Republic probably giving the game the title of the best game thus far. (Honourable mention for the helter-skelter chaos of Hungary/Iceland).

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It seems heresy to say it out loud, given how bloody wonderful major tournaments are, but the Euros have been desperately dull thus far. The group stages of the World Cup two years were superb before the knockout stages became more prosaic.

Let's hope the opposite happens in France.

See Also: Watch: French Girl Serenaded By Irish Fans Has Her Own Video And It's Even Better

See Also: The Statistical Euro 2016 Team Of The Tournament So Far

 

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