The new-look European Championship qualifying process has thrown up a huge amount of big-priced winners. So lets celebrate the change, says Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire).
UEFA were said to have hamstrung their own tournament when expanding the ever-popular European Championships from 16 to 24 tears. As well as making one of the toughest tournaments on the planet a little softer, they also made qualifying for the event even easier for the major nations.
But… whisper it quietly and there’s certainly an argument to be had that in fact, the new qualifying process has energised the process. Are the bigger nations suffering a World Cup hangover? Are they taking their foot off the gas knowing qualification should be a cakewalk? Or is the gap from the top to the bottom getting gradually smaller?
There’s plenty of theories but there’s no denying the drama that’s been seen from the first three rounds of fixtures. Unless you’re an England fan (pitted in an awfully straightforward group), you’ll have fallen in love with the new qualifying format; I certainly have.
Northern Ireland (7/1 BetVictor) were the latest big-priced winners to upset the odds in Greece but we've already seen shocks aplenty; Iceland (13/2 Bet365) overcoming the Netherlands, Slovakia (17/2 Coral) downing Spain, Poland (19/4 Bet365) punishing Germany, Cyprus (20/1 Bet365) winning in Bosnia, Portugal falling to Albania (11/1 BetVictor) in Lisbon and even Russia (1/10 various) failing to beat Moldova in Moscow and of course Ireland denying Germany (1/5 various) in Gelsenkirchen.
We’ve had nine matches to pick from for six successive days meaning I’ve been lucky enough to digest games such as Latvia-Iceland, Lithuania-Estonia and even Kazakhstan-Czech Republic – fixtures I’d never had a chance to consider watching let alone seek out a dodgy online stream.
France 2016 might not be as special as previous European Championships but don’t knock the new qualifying structure, format and scheduling. It’s been a wonderful week to be an international football fan and I won’t let anyone say otherwise – even you, England fans!