My name is Pawel Dimow and I am a half Polish, half Bulgarian passionate and devoted fan of football – not only the football played by Spain and Germany but also the football played by Andorra and San Marino! I decided to write this comment as I fully support the idea of UEFA to expand the European Championship to 24 teams and I am not very happy with the way you laugh at the national teams of some European countries.
Let me start with some history. The current situation reminds me the one from the first half of the 20th century. Back then, England was laughing at the other national teams from the continent and the rest of the world, and refused to participate in the first three World Cups with the motive that there is no sense to enter competitions which will be easily won against poor rivals. What happened when you decided to go to the World Cup and show the world how to play football? The great England with the great Billy Wright, Tom Finney and Stanley Matthews lost 2 of 3 matches and, of course, failed to qualify from the group! Moreover, you were even beaten 1-0 by USA! Before the tournament you probably thought that the Yankees do not know the rules of the game and play soccer with hands. But they defeated you and you even failed to score against them!
Unfortunately, you did not learn your lesson and despite the 1950 World Cup flop you still thought that you are the best in the world. In order to prove this, England decided to face the magnificent Hungary at Wembley in 1953. What was the score? I will tell you. England lost 3-6. And what happened when you wanted to avenge this defeat and went to Budapest? England was hammered 1-7! And I think these great defeats would have been even greater if László Kubala, the Barcelona legend and one of the greatest players of that era, was still playing for the Hungarian national team. Before these two matches you thought that you are superior to that Hungarian team which is one of the greatest ever! I must admit that you have a very strange perception of football and the quality of non-British football teams! I will also add that you were lucky that you did not try to show the world who is the best with a third game against the Magyars because Puskás, Kocsis, Hidegkuti and the rest of their teammates could have scored 10 against you!
This time you are laughing at teams like Lithuania, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Romania and Slovenia. Have you forgotten how England drew 2-2 with Swizerland at Wembley in the EURO 2012 qualifying campaign and how you struggled mightily to protect your 1-0 lead against Slovenia at the last 2010 World Cup? These teams have shown that they can be competitive and I will not be surprised if they steal points from England at EURO 2016!
Another example is England’s last match of the EURO 2008 qualifying campaign. You needed a draw against the already qualified Croatia in order to progress to the tournament in Austria and Switzerland. The game was like a real final for England and you were defeated 2-3 at the great Wembley by the great Croats who came there to play for fun. It looks like that you are laughing at the crowd of 1,886 people in Vaduz. Are you also laughing at the fact that you were beaten two times in the EURO 2008 campaign by a country (Croatia) with a population of 4.3 million, approximately 12 times less than the population of England?
If you want to laugh at something else, too, we can laugh together at the way the great English players shoot penalties. How can you lose 5 straight penalty shootouts at major tournaments and 6 of 7 in your history?!? This is ridiculous!
But I do not want to laugh at anybody as I respect everybody! As a big fan of English football, I really missed your team at EURO 2008 and regretted that the Three Lions with their great fans were not there! Moreover, I am sure that millions football fans from the whole world wanted to see players like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney competing at the tournament in Austria and Switzerland. You never know in football, but I think that a European Championship with 24 teams will almost guarantee us that teams like England, with some really great players, will not be missing again.
UEFA’s Martin Kallen named Switzerland, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Slovenia, Norway and Scotland as examples of great teams which are missed at EURO 2012. You are laughing at the “greatness” of these teams but I will tell you that although my Poland and Bulgaria do not have many great players and do not achieve great results, the national teams of my two home countries are great for me and I am proud to be their supporter! I am pleased that Martin Kallen called the Bulgarian national team a great one and I am sure that many Swiss, Romanian, Bulgarian, Lithuanian, Slovenian, Norwegian and Scottish fans are pleased with his words, too! I fully agree with the EURO 2012 chief and would also like to add some more great teams to the list – Turkey, Serbia, Belgium, Slovakia, Austria, Belarus and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Of course, there even are some more teams which I would be interested to see at EURO 2016. I am sure the European championship with 24 teams will be a great success and as a result I think that the tournament will be further expanded in the future! I think, however, that the best possible tournament format is not with 24 teams as I am not a big fan of the idea 3 teams from 4 groups and 2 teams from 2 groups to qualify for the round of 16 like it was at the 1986, 1990 and 1994 World Cups. I definitely prefer the current World Cup format and I predict that as from EURO 2028 we will have 32 participants! In 16 years, the European championship will look just like the World Cup! Remember my words :)
And if you do not like EURO 2016 with 24 teams, do not watch it! Go fishing or watch cricket! Me and millions of other European football fans will watch the tournament and enjoy it. And I guarantee you that much more people in Europe will follow EURO 2016 with 24 teams than 2012 with 16 teams! As you probably know, the interest in the European Championship in a country is greater when the national team of this country is one of the participants. And if you wonder why UEFA wants such teams like Lithuania and Bulgaria at the European Championship, go to Vilnius or Sofia when Lithuania or Bulgaria will be playing their EURO 2016 games and you will see why!
You are concerned that the quality of football will fall down with 24 teams and point out Ireland as an example that even in a 16-team tournament we have teams that are much weaker. Yes, I agree that Ireland was the weakest team at EURO 2012 but I liked to watch how their players fight and give it all on the pitch. Despite their technical limitations, they deserve great respect for showing the world how football should be played – with great ambition and great heart! The quality of EURO will never be damaged by such teams! And as Irish players were the weakest in the competition, their fans were probably the greatest! They made a significant contribution to the great atmosphere of the tournament and without them EURO 2012 would not have been so wonderful!
You state that "nobody is absent from Poland and Ukraine who deserves to be here" and I disagree with this statement. For example, the very strong team of Turkey is absent! They reached the semifinals of EURO 2008 and their games at the previous championship were the most entertaining and dramatic. Such matches as Turkey – Czech Republic, Turkey – Croatia and Turkey – Germany will always have a special place in the history of European Championships! Unfortunately, Turkey, who played at both World Cup and EURO semifinals in the last 10 years, failed to qualify among the 16 best teams this time and I really miss them! If the current EURO had 24 teams, Turkey would have been here and could have delivered some more unforgettable moments!
As we speak about Turkey, I will attach another example of why you should not laugh at the other teams. In the EURO 1988 qualifying campaign England destroyed Turkey by 8-0 and you laughed at how poor your rivals were. What happened 20 years later? Turkey played a great EURO 2008 semifinal with Germany while England failed to qualify for this 16-team tournament. Turkey made a great progress and I will not be surprised if some of the other countries you are currently laughing at make a similar progress in the future!
As a governing body of European football, UEFA must promote and develop football in all of its member states. Expanding the European Championship is definitely a step in the right direction. If countries like the above mentioned Switzerland, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Slovenia, Norway and Scotland receive an opportunity to qualify and play regularly at the European Championships and countries like Azerbaijan, Albania, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Georgia, Iceland and Cyprus get realistic chances to earn EURO birth, the interest of their citizens in football will become much bigger. As a result their governments will stimulate the development of football more actively, more people will start playing and following the game and more sponsors will invest more money in their football. This will improve the quality of their club and national teams and they will be much stronger in the future. We all want this to happen! Don’t you see the broader picture? The lack of opportunities for the national team to play at major tournaments hampers the development of football in the country and we must try to avoid that!
I will finish with the following statement: "Football is for all, not only for the richest and strongest!"
Pawel Dimow – fan of the game
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