What if… Euro 2016 Had 16 Teams (Part 1)
(Okay, so this concept has been done before but this article was first printed in 2016, which it might have been considered fresh. Hopefully it’ll always be considered funny. Rather than the full 3000 word monolith that was, we’re gonna split this up into a few parts and add some changes. With that in mind, enjoy)
In addition to some of the finest football writing and podcasting the internet has to offer, we at The Beermat have exclusive access to the world’s first multiverse viewfinder. Plug in all the information that was relevant at the time, we can flip the beautiful game on it’s head and have a look at a world where certain key moments went the other way. Armed with the worlds largest supply of bullshit, we can investigate alternate realities. All with the magic of one simple question. What if?
First up, we’re going to look back at the summer of football just gone and ask…
What if Euro 2016 had 16 teams instead of twenty four?
No one really cares that much now that we’re the other side of it, I mean it was a whole two England managers ago. Changing the tournament format did however at first put a real dampener on things. While we all marvelled at the underdog achievements in the expanded Euros, it was it’s compacting of all the best teams from around the continent that really got the mouth watering. It’s easy to get carried away with a group that contained Italy, France and the Netherlands as Group C did in 2008 (for the record, Romania were the final team in that group and didn’t even finish bottom) but it’s harder to feel the same kind of anticipation for Austria, Portugal, Iceland and Hungary. What the Euros did that the World Cup with it’s thirty two teams could not, is align big nations together in a group in a veritable clash of the titans. Sure, there were occasions when that wasn’t the case (Group A in 2012 is a perfect example of this) but with this new twenty four team line up, the chances are we’re never going to get a real group of death ever again. With that in mind, let’s work backwards and see exactly what would have happened if Euro 2016 only had a sweet sixteen.
It turns out, the process – given the way the groups were structured – is remarkably easy to narrow the field from twenty four to sixteen. France are our hosts, naturally they’re in first. Then we add the nine group winners to make ten. From here we round up the teams that finished second and rank them using the same process that UEFA used to determine the best third place team.
The top three second place teams also get automatic qualification, leaving six teams to vie for three slots. Slovakia are cruelly denied by virtue of goal difference as Russia, Iceland and Romania join the ten teams already in. Also, Croatia were deducted a point for racist chants in their group stage match with Italy, hence them being on 14 points instead of 15. UEFA once again coming in with the hard-line stance obviously.
So what we’re left with now is six teams vying for three spots. This draw was seeded based on the FIFA rankings at the time of the nations left, which had Slovakia, Switzerland and Croatia as the seeded sides. Names were quite literally put into a hat and what came out with was as follows.
Poland VS Croatia
Albania VS Switzerland
Slovakia VS Wales
Let the games begin…
Poland and Croatia engage in nearly two hundred minutes of insanity over two legs. Roberto Lewandowski is surprisingly quiet but Arkadiusz Milik scores twice as the game in Krakow ends 3-3. The game in Zagreb is much more of a tame affair, with Ivan Rakitic scoring the crucial goal that sends the Croats into raptures. Poland have their chances but are left to rue their luck in front of goal and must sit out the summer.
Albania go into their game with Switzerland full of confidence and being quietly tipped to cause an upset. It’s the home side that are upset however, a goal down inside five minutes and a man down by the half hour mark, former Sunderland man Lorik Cana receiving his marching orders. Fabian Schar scored what would prove to be the only goal of the game as Switzerland’s finishing became increasingly wasteful in the second half but are never punished. The game in Basel is much more comfortable for the Swiss as they wrap up a 3-0 aggregate win, with their midfield dominating proceedings. Albania put up a fight but eventually go home, having not really so much as thrown an punch.
Wales make light work of Slovakia in Trnava but are unable to make the most of Sam Vokes’ opener and have to settle for a 1-1 draw when Marek Hamsik fires in late on. The Millenium Stadium is absolutely bouncing for the second leg, which they win comfortably by three goals to one. Dean Saunders coins the phrase “Gwanyebalstards” after having had one too many celebratory drinks during his commentary.
With our sixteen teams in place, we can now look forward to yet another convoluted draw. First of all, the seeding as they would have been given all the teams involved; national coefficients at the time listed here. France are automatically granted a top seed as hosts and the other pots were divided as follows.
Pot 1 Pot 2 Pot 3 Pot 4
Once more we recreated the draw with as much accuracy as possible, only it’s hard to recreate that level of tedium. There was at least mild interest in this one. And we swear we didn’t rig it.
Group A Group B Group C Group D
Roy Hodgson makes a deal with the devil when it comes to group stage draws yet again. He could have at least bought us a beer. He can’t actually do it though, can he?
To Be Continued….