Pitchside Europe

UEFA proposes ‘pointless’ France qualifiers

Euro 2016 hosts France could be made to play a full qualifying tournament – with all their games worth nul points.

UEFA is seeking to ratify a bizarre set of proposals at its executive committee meeting next week, proposals which would see France added to one of the qualifying groups after the draw is made.

With 53 teams entering the pot, there would be eight groups of six teams, and one group containing five – France would be added to that pool afterwards.

They would therefore play 10 ‘competitive’ matches, matches that could be difficult to organise while their rivals are trying to actually qualify.

The ideology is sound enough – host nations play a dozen or so meaningless friendlies in the build-up to a tournament, with the competitiveness of these matches limited by many nations’ reluctance to play top teams in between vital qualifying matches. Poland and Ukraine struggled to organise good friendlies last time out.

UEFA has called the concept "centralised friendlies" and, while it all seems well and good in theory, it must be pointed out that wiping out all the points that would ordinarily be assigned to France’s matches would clearly have an impact on their opponents, who would most likely field weakened teams in order to protect their star players.

It would also complicate the play-off criteria, bearing in mind that 24 teams will qualify for the next European Championships, with 16 having been the previous number of sides involved.

Additionally, Poland and Ukraine's troubles in arranging matches probably won't apply to France anyway - the French are seen as a 'prestige' opponent and would have no shortage of high-quality opponents from all over the world.

'Centralised friendlies' is not the only idea being floated around UEFA headquarters - another 'revolutionary' idea is to abolish friendlies altogether and replace them with a 54-team, multi-division 'Nations League' with promotion, relegation and prize money on offer for nations.

All this meddling seems somewhat unnecessary, particularly given the number of high-intensity matches the top footballers in Europe are expected to play.

But UEFA, with their constant expansion of tournaments such as the Europa League, clearly don’t care about that.

And with UEFA's French president Michel Platini - who helped France avoid the 'pot of death' at the World Cup draw - reportedly pushing for the rule change, expect it to be passed with flying colours.