PARIS: The format for Uefa’s continent-wide Euro 2020 has been labelled “a scandal” by Belgium star Kevin De Bruyne as European football’s governing body faces a headache to ensure all host nations who qualify get to play at home.
For the first time, next year’s European Championship will be played in 12 different host cities in 12 different nations, with Wembley staging the semi-finals and final.
The draw for what will be the second 24-team Euro will be held in Bucharest on Saturday, November 30.
Wales became the 20th nation to secure their spot when they beat Hungary 2-0 in Cardiff on Tuesday, with the remaining four places going to the winners of play-offs to be held next March.
However, with Uefa having to ensure that host nations play group games on home turf while also keeping certain teams apart for geopolitical reasons, much of the suspense has already been removed from the draw.
For example, Ukraine and Russia cannot face one another due to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
That means Belgium already know they will face Russia and Denmark — both of whom will host games — in Group B, leaving little suspense come the draw for the finals.
“It is a scandal, honestly,” Manchester City star De Bruyne told Belgian television after his side’s 6-1 win over Cyprus on Tuesday.
“Football is not really football anymore, it’s becoming a business.
“As a player you have to get used to it, but for me they are sort of falsifying the competition. It takes all the pleasure away from the draw.”
Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman was similarly vexed to discover that his side have already been placed in the same section, Group C, as Ukraine.
“I don’t really understand this new format. I have asked my federation if I still need to bother going to the draw on November 30,” he told De Telegraaf.
France, Portugal not top seeds
Belgium, Italy, England, Germany, Spain and Ukraine are the top seeds for the draw, while World Cup holders France find themselves in pot two along with the Netherlands. Reigning European champions Portugal are in the third pot.
The draw for the play-offs which will provide the last four berths at the tournament will be held this Friday, with its make-up based on performances in the recent, inaugural Uefa Nations League.
Having fallen short in qualifying, both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will get a second shot in the play-offs.
Northern Ireland will visit Bosnia and Herzegovina on March 26, while the Republic of Ireland will go to Slovakia the same day.
The winners of those one-off ties will then meet five days later with a finals place at stake.
Scotland will have a home play-off against either Bulgaria, Israel, Hungary or Romania. Should they win that, they will then take on Norway or Serbia for a place in the finals.
However, Scotland, Hungary and Romania are all due to host matches, which means providing for them all doing so should they qualify for the finals becomes a headache for organisers.
In addition, the fact the play-off winners will not be known until just two and a half months before the start of the Euro on June 12, adds another layer of complication.