The Euro 2020 draw is an avoidable mess of Uefa’s own making

Miguel Delaney
The Independent
England manager Gareth Southgate speaks to the media at the draw: Getty
England manager Gareth Southgate speaks to the media at the draw: Getty

It was a draw, to be frank, that fits the tournament: badly spread out, badly structured and with a lot of fair questions about why exactly it had to be like this.

Uefa are already promoting Euro 2020 as the “biggest ever”, but you can feel free to add your own ending. Biggest ever mess? Blunder?

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So much of it didn’t make sense. Firstly, from about six top-tier sides, three find themselves in the same group, Group F, with defending champions Portugal, world champions France, Germany and… well, more on that later.

There’s then the fact the winner of England’s group will play one of those sides in Dublin in the last 16, meaning there may be an incentive to finish second. That somewhat removes the fizz from another meeting with Croatia, which is pretty much the major takeaway for Gareth Southgate and the squad. England also face a rematch with Czech Republic, one of their opponents in qualifying, in another of the competition’s inexplicable quirks.

In a tournament when you can meet almost half of Europe, and have so many potential new games, why did they not split those who were in the same qualification group? Spain have a similar situation with Sweden, in a group that also includes Poland and… yes, there’s then this ludicrous situation that we won’t actually know the four remaining teams until March, barely two months before the tournament starts.

That does not leave a lot of time for logistics, especially for supporters. They are unintentionally going to leave a frankly unconscionable carbon footprint traipsing across Europe, at a time when global awareness of this environmental crisis has never been greater.

This will be most felt by Welsh fans, who have to travel from one end of the continent to the other for two matches in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku.

It is all the more ridiculous when you consider what will be going on on Wales’ doorstep. There is the potential that all of England, Scotland and one of the two Irish countries could be playing great national events in Dublin, London and Glasgow – in what will feel like the tournament’s main hub – only for Wales to be the width of the Atlantic Ocean away. Playing their matches in New York, and in another federation, doesn’t feel any more inherently ridiculous an idea given where Baku is and the known issues from the Europa League final.

Drawn with Italy, Turkey and Switzerland, the Welsh are probably in the competition’s actual group of death. It certainly looks the most exacting, given that Portugal, France and Germany could well end up with opponents like Georgia or Kosovo.

If that happens, it’s difficult not to think it will be a win for all of them, giving them the three points that is likely to be the minimum requirement to be one of the 16 teams who make it through the group stage.

Yes, all that trouble, all these games, all these air miles… for a load of matches that don’t really mean that much, that just cut out a mere third of the field and get us to the situation where the Euros should really be starting: 16 sides fighting it out.

It remains the worst example of football administration’s typically bad decisions when it comes to competition organisation, and how they ruined what really was a perfectly good tournament – perhaps the only perfect international tournament.

Sixteen teams was just so right in terms of everything from competitive balance to structure. It meant it was difficult enough to make qualification a real achievement, but also allowed just enough space for some of the smaller nations – like Slovenia 2000, Latvia 2004, Ireland 2012 – to have proper nation-defining sporting feats, that didn’t feel cheap. It also meant they were likely to be good teams, unlike so much of Euro 2016.

The fact the current qualification process is still ongoing, after the main draw and after so many safety nets have already been passed through, sums this new cheapness up.

Then there was the perfect concentration of quality in terms of the difficulty of the groups, and who went through. Think England’s group with Germany, Portugal and Romania in 2000 or Germany’s with Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark in 2012. They were fixtures to get really excited about, unlike this effective procession.

And while you can understand the reasoning behind spreading the game and giving more nations their moments, it shouldn’t come at the expense of what was an exceptional tournament, that offered such nations better moments. Slovenia will always remember 2000 in a way that Ukraine just won’t remember 2016. Who remembers that they were even there outside the country or those who played them?

For their part, the current Uefa regime have inherited this mess from Michel Platini, and can’t do much about it. That, however, is the same for four of the prospective qualifiers until late March: they can’t do much, even though we’ve already had the main draw.

How this is happened is just one of many fair questions about the ludicrousness of what was once a great competition.

This isn’t to say Euro 2020 won’t be a great party, it isn’t to say it won’t provide great moments, by the time it ends at Wembley in July. But it’s not just Uefa’s biggest ever competition. It’s one of their biggest ever messes.

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