There have been many surprises in the 2016 European Championships so far, as some highly underrated teams have shockingly made it out of their groups and moved onto the round of 16.
While some of these surprises are due to the poor performances of usually top quality teams in the
tournament, an even bigger factor is the new system that has been introduced to the Euros this year.
Recently, UEFA changed the format of the Euro tournament by adding eight more teams to the group stage phase, thus increasing the number of teams competing from originally 16, to now 24.
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With this addition of eight teams, the tournament now allows, not only the top two finishers of each group to advance to the knockout round, but also the four best third place finishers from the six groups competing.
So, as the new system played out in this year’s group stage, many outside teams had the opportunity to actually advance to the next round of the tournament, and they took it.
Teams like Slovakia, Northern Ireland, and Republic of Ireland advanced to the knockout round, meaning the tournament is now full of possible fairy tale stories.
While one side of the knockout phase involves most major European powerhouses battling for a spot to the final, the other side of the spectrum has much smaller teams, which gives a massive opportunity to usually weaker sides, like Wales and Poland, to make it even as far as the final without facing any of the top five teams in Europe.
However, while this new system for the Euros allows more room for underdog teams to really take a shot at the cup, it has also made it much more difficult for top teams like Italy, Spain, Germany etc. to have a long run in the tournament.
As only four of six third place teams qualify for the knockout stage, two of the number one finishers in their group do not have the chance to play third place qualifiers. Instead, the tournament is formatted in a way that only allows certain top finishers to play third place teams as a reward for qualifying first in their group.
So, while the system works perfectly for some groups, it does not for others. For example, France, the host nation, won their group and played Republic of Ireland, a third place finisher. However, Italy, who also won their group, will not play a third place team in the next phase, but will instead play Group D runners up Spain.
Like France, group winners Germany, Wales, and Croatia all played third place teams in the round of 16, whilst group winners Hungary played Belgium, who finished second in their group.
This however, is not because teams like Germany and France had more points than Italy and Hungary, but simply because of the way the tournament is formatted.
Therefore, teams like Wales have got a much easier passage over the likes of Italy, despite both nations topping their respective groups.
So while the new tournament format has coincidentally given more teams an unusual chance to advance even further in the tournament, it has also coincidentally made life much more difficult for some of the teams that usually dominate the competition.
Although it is understandable that UEFA wants to give more opportunities of doing well in major tournaments to smaller teams, the organisation’s solution to achieving this goal has created a massive inequality in terms of opportunities for teams to get to the final of the tournament.
While the introduction of third place teams gives lower ranked teams more chances to advance, the idea that only four of the six group winners end up playing these third place finishers seems a bit unfair, as the tournament now falls into place by format rather than actual merit, thus giving some teams better chances, while also leaving some very deserving teams behind in the storm.
What do YOU make of the new system? Have YOUR say in the comment section below!