At the end of every Olympic Games, the president of the International Olympic Committee invites the youth of the world to assemble again in four years' time in Beijing, London or wherever. Yesterday, Uefa's Michel Platini did the same, a day early, to the European football community – the problem being that nobody knows whether Poland and Ukraine will be ready to receive them.
Having controversially awarded the next tournament to two of the continent's less developed football countries, European football's governing body now need to be satisfied that it will not be necessary to take it away again. Scotland and Ireland, as well as Spain and Italy, await with interest a final decision that will be taken in September, when the co-hosts must provide reassurance that new grounds will be ready in Warsaw and Kiev.
"We gave them four months to pull their socks up," Platini said. "The only thing which would make me decide not to go there would be if there were no stadia in the two capitals. Then there would be no tournament. We'll do everything we can to hold it there. There's no back-up plan."
It may soon be necessary to construct one, and quickly, for there have been alarming reports about the lack of progress in Ukraine in particular.
What does seem certain to be decided in September is that the current system of 16 finalists will be increased from 2016 onwards to 24, after being approved late yesterday by a meeting of national associations. Having made a gentle jibe last week about this increasing England's chances of qualifying, the Uefa president included them on a list of nations who could benefit from such an extension.
"Today teams like England, Denmark, Ireland, Scotland, Belgium, Serbia, Ukraine are not here," he said. "I won a tournament [in 1984] with only eight teams. I'm not certain it was better with eight or that it's better with 16 or 24 or 32."
It is not difficult to predict what a majority of them would like to see, especially bearing in mind the revelation yesterday by David Taylor, Uefa's Scottish general secretary, that revenue from Euro 2008 is up 56 per cent on four years ago. Self-interest aside, it would be nice to think that consideration was also given to the playing standards and compactness of the competition, both of which have been extremely good in what will go down as one of the best of modern tournaments on every level, reflected in huge television audiences round the world.
Platini rightly believes that attacking teams have in general prospered and that timid ones like Greece, Poland and Sweden floundered. The bookmakers were proved right about the two most fancied teams (Germany and Spain) and the least fancied (Austria and Poland), although like most people they overrated France and Italy, underestimating Holland, Russia and the 40-1 shots Turkey.
The latter pair each contributed hugely in their different ways before falling in the semi-finals, Turkey's braves somehow having reached that stage while being ahead for only eight minutes in the whole competition and Russia furthering the reputation of their coach, Guus Hiddink, the man the Football Association passed over before appointing Steve McClaren.
Picking a best match involved long debate between Russia's quarter-final with Holland, an epic of 54 attempts on goal; Germany's thrilling 3-2 victories over Portugal and Turkey; the latter's regular last-minute heroics; even the more one-sided Dutch demolitions of France and Italy. The closeness of so many other scorelines was another argument in favour of keeping it at 16 teams; unlike a World Cup, the only way weak teams qualify is as hosts, and even here Austria (92nd in the world) and Switzerland (44th) used home advantage to at least put up a fight.
Choosing the outstanding player is more problematic and may require a run-off tonight between Germany's Michael Ballack, if fit, and Spain's Cesc Fabregas. Andrei Arshavin of Russia spoilt his candidacy by disappearing in the semi-final after outstanding efforts in his two previous games; David Villa may yet finish as the leading scorer despite doing nothing since his first two matches. The other notable feature, with fingers crossed for the final, was the spirit of sportsmanship in games which were well-refereed.
Finally, the organisation in both host countries was excellent, with hooliganism minimal and fanzones again a huge success, the one disappointment being that only the Basel and Vienna stadiums could hold more than 30,000 fans. Platini wants that increased to a minimum 35,000 for future tournaments. Wherever the next one is staged, we will all be fortunate if it is as enjoyable as Euro 2008.
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