Why Euro 2016 was one of the most boring tournaments
Portugal lifted the title after a win over France but will the tournament last long in memory?
The Euros recently concluded and ever since the start of the tournament, the debate over the new expanded format of the tournament has been alive. The 51-game tournament, former UEFA boss Michel Platini's gift to his own country, promised to be a spectacularly boring and drawn out even before the tournament began.
The tournament stretched over a whole month
Looking at the history of the European Championship, we see that the major selling point of the Euros since its inception was that this tournament was nothing at all like the FIFA World Cup. It was short and crisp and comprised of 16 teams and a little over 30 matches which often included a third place play-off match. While it is in no way implied that lesser known nations that play football should be denied the chance to perform on as big a stage as the UEFA Euros, it should be kept in mind that 24 teams is a slightly problematic number.
This year the expanded format saw the nations divided into six groups of four with qualifications that were bloated and confusing. Not only were the top two teams of each group allowed to progress but also the four best third-placed teams were given the opportunity to qualify and bring the total number of teams up to 16 for the knock-out round. This meant that it took nearly 36 games to eliminate just 8 teams.
This ensured that Portugal, the champions of the tournament, qualified and progressed through the tournament on a mere technicality and would have come nowhere close to the finals if it had not been for this new format.
On the other hand, this was a great way to reduce the exclusivity of football and find a way to bring out lesser known fledgling teams from the shadows of the so called footballing giants who, frankly, failed to impress in the tournament.
The rise of defensive football
The other major reason this tournament can be called bloated for no concrete reason whatsoever is that the general quality of football was a lot inferior to what the audience has been accustomed to watching. Historically speaking, the knock-out rounds have usually featured some of the best football that has been seen.
Sadly, this was not the case in this tournament. Even after getting through 36 directly inconsequential games to eliminate just one-third of the participating teams, the tournament seemed to run out of steam.
A defensive style of play seemed to be a highly popular tactic this year among a lot of countries and this helped teams go far ahead in the tournament than was previously expected. What is inevitable, as more and more nations, adopted this tactic is the loss of excitement from the game; a fact that was clearly evident in this tournament.
In the round-of-16 matches, Switzerland-Poland went into penalties after each team was resilient in defence which was too strong for the opposition to break. Portugal-Croatia registered one of the lowest shots on target in a single game.
The clash between Wales and Northern Ireland generated ecstasy as it was two minnow nations and either victory would create history for the consequent country. Hungary-Belgium was totally dominated by the latter albeit with good, powerful tactics by the winners. The list goes on.
The quarter-finals were no better as it was only one game, the one between Wales and Belgium, that incited any kind of adrenaline from neutral viewers of the game. The only kind of zeal was invited by the minnow teams like Wales and Iceland who seemed to be determined to make the most out of their opportunity. Compare their feisty performance to the games of the so called footballing giants England. Where Wales impressed, the Lions faltered.
Decrease in the ratio of goals per game
Furthermore, the format failed to see any significant rise in the official goals per game ratio from the previous Euros. Euro 2012 had 76 goals in 31 matches which brought the ratio to 2.45. Euro 2016, however, had 108 goals in 51 matches with the goals per game ratio of just 2.12. The number of goals is not always relative to the quality of football played, though but no one can deny that a lot of the matches in this tournament went on to penalty shootouts and extra time simply because of unrelenting defence.
This attitude of being more safe than reckless has seen an overall decrement in excitement about the games too. In media houses around the world, the highlights of the tournament were the changing lights of the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris, the wonderful spirit of the travelling contingent of Irish supporters and the humiliating clashes between the fans of England and Russia. Very less was said about the actual games as there were next to no talking points from most of the fixtures.
In this context, one might look back on the historically significant European Championships of 1992 which were held in Sweden. Denmark, who had failed to qualify for the final rounds of Euro 92, were in for a surprise inclusion after the winners of their groups (Yugoslavia) were banned because of an ongoing Civil War back home.
After this, there was no turning back for the Danes as they managed to defeat the Netherlands in a penalty shootout in the semi-finals and a wonderfully aggressive performance earned them a victory in the finals.
They beat Germany 2-0, a team that included the likes of Jurgen Klinsmann and Stefan Effenberg. That was a fairytale ending, to say the least. Portugal's victory, in a sense, may be compared to this edition of the Euros instead of the competition in 2004. The fact remains though that in 1992 just eight finalists took part in the competition and this really does not diminish the enormity of Denmark's achievement. Portugal deserved the victory but was it really the nation that deserved to win the most?
The end, it is said, justifies the means. If that is the case then it is a very strong argument in favour of the style of football that has emerged out of this Euro, but it comes at the cost of taking away everything that is exciting from this beautiful game.