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Three Players That Will Benefit From The Euro 2016 Team Expansion
For the first time in the history of the competition, the European Championships in 2016 will be expanded from 16 teams to 24. France will be hosting the tournament and is the start to perhaps a new beginning for the European Championships. The 2020 Championships are yet to announce a host nation because UEFA President, Michel Platini, has announced that he wants numerous continental venues for the tournament. Platini has reiterated that he wants the 2020 Championships to be held all across Europe. In fact, Munich and Berlin have already shown interest in hosting some of the games for 2020.
Controversially France was awarded to host the 2016 Championships. It was widely regarded as a "scam" because UEFA President, Michel Platini, is French and in fact wanted his home country to host the tournament before the announcement was even made. The decision left a lot of countries angry because France hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1998 which, in terms of hosting major tournaments, isn't that long ago. The last time Italy hosted a major tournament was back in 1990, Sweden last hosted the 1992 European Championships, Greece have never hosted a major competition, and most notably, Spain last hosted a major tournament in 1982 when they held the FIFA World Cup.
The European Championships is regarded as the second greatest international competition in world football, behind the FIFA World Cup. It is seen as superior to South America's Copa America, North America's Gold Cup, Africa's African Cup of Nations, or Asia's Asian Cup. It is no secret that the European Championships have been a great spectacle for the past 50 years. This is mainly because it hosts a small competition in one, sometimes two, specific country for the very best nations of the continent of Europe to compete in.
For the first time in the tournament's history, it will host 24 nations instead of 16. There are a lot of positives and negatives that have been displayed regarding the decision. Some critics argue that the tournament fits better with 16 teams because in every game the standard will be impeccable and it will make teams fight harder to actually qualify for the competition. Furthermore the counter-argument to the decision is that a lot of fans and players don't get to be a part of a great spectacle that is watched from all around the world.
Prime nations such as Spain, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, and England now must certainly not have much difficulty to qualify for future tournaments because of the expansion; France will be awarded automatic qualification because they are the host country. However it means an easier qualifications for "almost" nations such as Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Republic of Ireland, Czech Republic and Greece; teams that don't always make major tournaments but then again don't always miss them. The decision to expand will benefit the smaller countries more than anyone else. Estonia nearly made it to Euro 2012 but narrowly missed out via the playoffs to the Republic of Ireland, Wales narrowly missed out on Euro 2004 but lost to Russia also in the playoffs, and Bosnia & Herzagovina who have been knocked out in the last two qualifying campaigns in the playoffs to Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal.
There have been world-class players during the last decade that haven't had as much success with their national team as their club team. For example, most notably, Ryan Giggs has won 13 Premier League titles, 5 FA Cups, 2 UEFA Champions Leagues and has played over 1,000 professional games but never made it to a major tournament with Wales. In 2004, Wales came close to qualifying for the the finals in Portugal but went out to Russia in the playoffs, losing 1-0 at home in Cardiff. Another absentee of the major competitions was Daniel Van Buyten of Bayern Munich. Van Buyten has played 70 times for Belgium but has only been to one World Cup in 2002. However, he was merely a fringe player in Korea/Japan because of his young age, and never played at a European Championships. Other players who have missed out with their respected countries at the European Championships are Icelandic striker Eidur Gudjohnsen and Finland's best ever player, Jari Litmanen, who played for prestigious clubs such as Ajax, Barcelona, and Liverpool.
There are three players that will dramatically benefit from UEFA's decision. These three players haven't yet played at an international major tournament but are all regarded as world-class and have played at the highest level with their respected clubs.
Gareth Bale, Wales
Gareth Bale is the first of the three to be mentioned. Regarded as the best left midfielder in the world, Bale is highly recommended to move to Spanish giants Real Madrid this summer becoming the first Welshman to play for the los blancos. Bale currently plays his football at Tottenham Hotspur and has just come off the best season of his career where he scored 26 goals in all competitions for Tottenham Hotspur and 30 goals for club and country. Bale could have played for England because he qualifies for his English grandmother but neglected the chance and tarnished any speculation by saying "I am Welsh. I am proud to play for Wales."
Many believe that Bale will be the next Ryan Giggs in more ways than one. Like Giggs, Bale was born in Cardiff but left for England at a young age to pursue a career in football. Like Giggs, Bale is a left footed left sided midfielder who is blessed with pure pace and is a quality deliverer of the ball. However, unlike Giggs, Bale has developed his game immensely and has implanted himself as a more attacking midfield player rather than a winger. The outcome was substantial and Bale became PFA Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year in the same season; only the third player to do it in history.
Wales have made incredible strides forward in the last couple of years. They have developed a lot of their youth players and now we are seeing the reward of how good they. Aaron Ramsey has progressed this season with Arsenal and is the main man in midfield for Wales. Joe Allen made his £15 million move from Swansea City to Liverpool last summer and has had a superb debut season on Merseyside. Ben Davies' debut season with hometown club Swansea City was impressively acclaimed by his fellow professionals and now looks one of the best left-backs in the Premier League. With the rest of the squad, and captain Ashley Williams, Wales have a real chance of qualifying for Euro 2016 and showcasing the talents of many of their youngsters, and of course, Gareth Bale
Marek Hamšík, Slovakia
Marek Hamšík, like Bale, is one of Europe's hottest properties. He has just came off the back end of his best ever season where he helped Napoli finish second in Serie A and therefore automatically qualify for next season's UEFA Champions League. Furthermore he scored 11 goals in all competitions but more impressively created 22 assists. Edinson Cavani is Napoli's main man because of the amount of goals he scores but Hamšík is undoubtedly regarded as their next best player. He is the playmaker of the Naples club and displayed outstanding performances last season, and even scored in the 2012 Coppa Italia Final win over rivals Juventus.
Internationally, both with club and country, Marek Hamšík hasn't had much success. He is vice-captain of Slovakia at the tender age of 25 and is regarded as the team's best player. Slovakia tremendously qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa against all odds but weren't able to qualify for last summer's European Championships. There is a fear that Hamšík won't play in another major tournament because of the lack of quality in Slovakia's national team. However with the decision to expand the European Championships in 2016, Hamšík must be rubbing his hands in excitement in the acknowledgment that it is an opportunity for him and his county to get there.
Robert Lewandowski, Poland
Robert Lewandowski is arguably the world's best current centre-forward. Like Bale and Hamšík, he has just completed his best ever personal season. Although it is the first seasosn that he finished trophyless with Borussia Dortmund, he finished the campaign with 36 goals, 24 of them coming in the Bundesliga, and notably four coming against Real Madrid in last season's UEFA Champions League semi-final.
He is reportedly being chased by Bayern Munich, Manchester United, and Cheslea but it is unsure where he will play his club football next season. However, one thing is for sure, he will be scoring goals for Poland for many years to come. Unlike Bale and Hamšík, Lewandowski has played at a European Championships when Poland co-hosted the tournament last summer. He scored one goal for the team in the opening game against Greece. However Poland were unable to progress through their group.
Poland are not in a substantial position in their current World Cup qualifying group, being adrift of leaders Montenegro and favourites England, so it is unlikely they will qualify for the World Cup. It is a real shame for many football fans that Poland won't be competing next summer because Lewandowski's qualify will not be showcased. The European Championships in 2016 might be a lifeline for Lewandowki's international career because it gives them a real opportunity to qualify. With other members of the squad, and fellow Dortmund teammates, such as Jakub Błaszczykowski and Łukasz Piszczek Poland have as much as an opportunity as Wales and Slovakia to qualify.