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UEFA proposals play right in to Scotland's hands

IF you didn't know better, you might think the European Championship finals were being sculpted in Scotland's favour.

Spain won the finals in Kiev last summer. Might they do so again in Glasgow in eight years time?
Spain won the finals in Kiev last summer. Might they do so again in Glasgow in eight years time?

Firstly, admittedly at the Scottish Football Association's behest, the number of continental qualifiers was extended to 24 teams from 2016 onwards, theoretically at least handing us a greater chance of qualifying.

Then, yesterday, Uefa's Executive Committee endorsed the idea of president Michel Platini to stage the 2020 competition in up to 13 European cities, throwing a bone to countries who have previously been overlooked in the bidding process for being too small or financially brittle to see the project through. When it emerged last night that Uefa were effectively looking for a single location with a football-daft population and up to three 50,000-plus seater stadiums to stage both semi-finals and the final, the fit could hardly have seemed more natural for Glasgow had Platini also insisted that the matches were played out on a blaes pitch with a mouldmaster.

The Scottish Football Association were unavailable for comment last night, but this mattered little as Stewart Regan, the chief executive, made his position on the subject abundantly clear just a week ago. Although it might take an upgrade to Hampden to seal the deal, the SFA are already thought to have made a bid for the business end of the competition.

Gianni Infantino, the Italian general secretary of Uefa, said that the formal bidding process for host cities will start in March and decisions would be made in the spring of 2014. "The 2020 finals will be the 60th anniversary and they're considering something different," Regan explained recently. "Platini's proposal is for 13 cities as opposed to one or two countries, or three in the case of Scotland, Ireland and Wales, which was our suggestion earlier in the year. But irrespective of the outcome, there is a great opportunity for Scotland, either as the country as a whole or Glasgow putting its hat in the ring to be one of the host cities."

Although no Scot sits on the Executive Committee, they have friends in high places; David Taylor, head of Uefa's events arm and one of Regan's predecessors is one of the men charged with seeing this process through. Competition will be fierce, not least from our neighbours south of the border. David Bernstein, the FA chairman, said it would "push" to have Wembley considered for the final in 2020, although the reshaped stadium is already hosting the Champions League final for the second time in three years in 2013. "Clearly Wembley is incredibly highly thought of by Uefa and it is something we will push for," said Bernstein. "Uefa want to hold the semi-finals and the final on the same ground, or in the same city, and I think we would be on their shortlist. But there would be some strong competition."

The wider European reaction to the decision in Lausanne will be harder to predict. Platini's determination is born of both idealism and pragmatism; while he wants to widen the franchise to smaller countries, he also wants to avoid the fiasco whereby smaller countries take on costs they can ill afford at a time of financial hardship for many. Higher than expected costs and building delays caused problems for the 2012 tournament in Poland and Ukraine. "It will be a lot easier from a financial perspective for all the countries," Platini has said. "While you might need to build airports or 10 stadiums in a country, this would be easier because it would be one stadium per host city."

It is also somewhat politically convenient, as shown by the way the news went down in Turkey. The Turks were the main bidders to host 2020, but their staging of the tournament would have thrown up all manner of awkward questions for Uefa. Little wonder that Senes Erzik, the Turkish vice president of Uefa, was the sole dissenting voice on the committee.

Fans' groups may also have mixed feelings about it all. For those who use major tournaments as a basis for a holiday, there is an ease to travelling to a single country to watch matches, but so infrequent have Tartan Army visits to tournaments been in recent years that they will take what they get.

The tournament has certainly undergone some fair old changes over the years. The finals began their existence in 1960 with just the continent's top four teams taking part, before being expanded to eight teams in 1980. Euro 96 in England was the first-ever 16 team version, with the 2016 event in France rising to 24 teams. The so-called 'Euros for Europe' gives the chance to widen the franchise still further with stadiums such as the Arena Nationala in Bucharest – home of the 2012 Europa League final – the Aviva Stadium in Dublin and the Millennium Stadium in Wales all likely to host a match in the finals. Scotland has tried and failed to host this tournament in the past, but suddenly the SFA really has a 20/20 vision.

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