There is sufficient quality within UEFA’s ranks to invite more teams without diluting the standards of the tournament: Serbia, Norway, Romania, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Greece, Iceland and Bosnia (the eight best sides not present this year, according to FIFA’s deeply flawed ranking system) would add, rather than subtract, to the competition.
To do so responsibly, however, UEFA would have to commit to a major reshaping of the way international soccer works. Elite players are already being asked to play far too many games, both by their clubs and their countries. FIFPro, the global players’ union, has repeatedly warned that burnout will lead to a surge in injuries, a belief shared by a number of leading coaches and, increasingly, by players themselves.
For the Euros to expand, then, something would have to give: namely, the laborious and predictable process of qualifying. Rather than forcing the major nations to jump through hoops for two years before reaching the finals anyway, it would make more sense to guarantee each of them a place.
For the sake of appearances, perhaps that could be dressed up as a spot for all those nations that have won a major tournament: Italy, Germany, France, England, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Greece and Denmark. Russia and the Czech Republic could be included, too, despite technically winning the Euros in another life, and under another name.
They would be joined by the five highest-ranked teams not to have won an honor: currently Belgium, Switzerland, Croatia, Wales and Sweden. Those 16 teams would be exempt from qualification, but rather than stand idle for two years, they would be drafted into a version of UEFA’s successful Nations League concept: four divisions of four teams, with the winners of each playing in a biennial, weeklong tournament, as they do now.