Uefa defend expanding European Championships as more teams will help 'inject the virus of football' across Europe

Gianni Infantino defends Uefa's expansion from 16 to 24 teams and believes hosting the 2020 tournament across 13 cities will help countries feel they belong

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UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino has defended the expansion of the European Championship, insisting more teams and multiple host countries will "inject the virus of football" throughout the continent.

The championship has been expanded from 16 to 24 teams for Euro 2016 while the 2020 tournament will be held in 13 different countries.

The new format for 2020 is a one-off measure to celebrate the 60th anniversary of European competition but there is concern that multiple host nations will reduce enthusiasm and atmosphere during the event.

"It's a great concept," Infantino said.

"We always have great parties when the Euros are hosted in one country but now our ambition is to organise a Euros for Europe.

"We want to inject the virus of football in the whole of Europe.

 

"In the 13 cities, people will feel the Euros belongs to them and it gives countries who have never hosted, the chance to host.

"They have the chance to build a new stadium and boost the development of football in their own country."

London's Wembley has won the right to host both the semi-finals and the final at Euro 2020 but other, less renowned football cities, will hold matches including Baku in Azerbaijan, Budapest in Hungary and St Petersburg in Russia.

None of those three cities have ever held a European finals fixture before but there is concern that local interest will dwindle if host countries are knocked out or fail to qualify.

"Even if the national team do not participate I think there will be an enthusiasm for hosting a European Championship," Infantino said.

"These are countries who have never organised a Euro and who would never be able to organise a Euro.

"And we have seen in the Euros before when host teams go out there is still an enthusiasm for the games."

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Spain won the 2012 European Championship

Adding eight more countries to the 2016 finals means two sides now automatically qualify, with third-placed teams earning a play-off spot.

The changes have given more hope to sides previously unlikely to go through but it has also reduced the competitiveness of the qualification stage for more established countries.

"The effect of 24 teams qualifying makes almost all the teams think they have a chance to qualify and that has created a new dynamic," Infantino said.

"We saw Cyprus beating Bosnia, the Czech Republic beating the Netherlands, Albania beating Portugal in Portugal.

"It creates a new dynamic and it can make the qualification process even more interesting."

Infantino added: "You develop football in Europe not only by developing football in a couple of countries but by making sure the whole of Europe feels integrated.

"Of the top 32 teams in the world, 20 are European so the quality of football in Europe is there."

PA

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