Uefa set to confirm Euro expansion

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The Independent Online

Uefa are set to rubber-stamp an expansion of the European Championship finals from 16 to 24 teams this week - a move that will limit the number of countries able to host the tournament.

The decision, to be taken by Uefa's executive committee at their meeting in Bordeaux tomorrow and Friday, follows a proposal by the Scottish FA and Football Association of Ireland last year.

It will take effect from the 2016 finals and has drawn virtually unanimous support from the 53 member countries, but Scottish FA chief executive Gordon Smith admits it will be a double-edged sword.

Scotland would not have the required facilities to stage an expanded championship.

Smith told PA Sport: "I think the expansion will be better for the game - more teams will have the chance of qualifying and the excitement of the groups will go on for longer.

"It is disappointing in that it means we will not be able to stage the tournament in the future, and we recognise that will be the case.

"It was a trade-off between trying to stage it or open up the qualification process and we have decided to look at something that helps everybody."

Smith said the proposal had not been an attempt merely to make it easier for Scotland to qualify for a major finals.

He added: "It will make if easier but it will make it easier for other countries such as England who failed to qualify for Euro 2008. We didn't do it specifically for that purpose however."

Uefa are also expected to announce that Poland and Ukraine will be kept as Euro 2012 joint hosts but will be warned they have to keep to strict deadlines for their construction projects.

The leaders of European football's ruling body will also authorise the budget for a special investigation unit to target match-fixing and corruption in football.

Corruption of referees and players, and match-fixing related to gambling, has become an increasing concern for Uefa, who late last year handed a 96-page report to Interpol detailing suspicions that 26 matches in the Champions League, Uefa Cup and Intertoto Cup had been fixed. Of those, 15 are still under investigation.

Uefa president Michel Platini said: "We are going to reinforce our activities regarding betting and bolster our inspectors.

"We already have an early warning system, which tells us there is some kind of irregularity surrounding a match.

"We must be vigilant. If matches are being bought then what is the point of playing football? it's not the act of betting on (football) which annoys me but that one should buy off a player to throw games.

"If I come across players who have done that they will be banned for life, we will not yield on that. Zero tolerance, as for racism and hooliganism."

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