Belfast Telegraph

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Biting Back: Euro expansion bad news for football but good news for Northern Ireland

By Steven Beacom

Euro 2012 is brilliant, isn't it? This tournament is so much better than the distinctly average World Cup two years ago in South Africa.

The World Cup may be the BIG one, but I've always preferred its little brother because it has half the amount of teams (32 to 16), making it a shorter, sharper competition. There’s also greater quality at the Euros as you don't get a whole host of weaker nations from around the globe basically making the numbers up.

But here's the rub — lap up Euro 2012 while you can because the next time the tournament comes around, things are going to be different. And not for the better.

In a self serving move, the Euro 2016 finals in France will have 24 teams.

In qualifying, nine group winners and runners-up will make it to France along with the highest ranked third placed team. Then four winners of play-offs between the remaining eight third-placed teams will make up the 24 along with the hosts.

This plan was agreed by all 53 Uefa member nations, no doubt savouring the riches being in the finals can bring. They don't care that it will make the tournament more unwieldly, less interesting and lacking in Euro 2012 quality, as poorer sides will be included.

The only upside is that Northern Ireland might have a better chance to qualify.

Belfast Telegraph

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