June 29 – Iceland’s fairytale progress to the quarterfinals of the European Championship proves it was a good idea to expand the tournament to 24 teams and has provided just the boost required, according to UEFA’s interim secretary general Theodore Theodoridis.
The smallest country ever to compete at the Euros have sent both Austria (in the group stage) and England (in the last 16) packing to set up a dream tie with hosts France.
“It’s a model. We will be using it as a positive image for the expansion (to 24 teams),” Theodoridis told reporters. “It’s pleasant for football to have one or two Cinderella stories. If you always have the same eight teams qualifying it becomes a little boring.”
Theodoridis says that Iceland’s success is not a total surprise, despite a 330,000 population, given the development of their coaching programmes. “You could see it coming – maybe not beating England, but you could see they would be competitive and would end up in a final tournament,” he said.
“If you look back over the last four years their under-21s and under-19s qualified more often than in the past.”
Euro 2016 was expanded from 16 to 24 teams to give opportunities to countries and fans who might not otherwise have qualified to experience a major finals. Theodoridis, who played a key role in developing Greek football before the country’s shock triumph at Euro 2004, added: “At the end of the day you have eight more countries that have strongly helped develop football in their countries. You’ve raised the competitiveness and raised the possibilities for people to dream.”
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