Platini at Saturday’s press conference in Nice (Getty)

(WFI) UEFA president Michel Platini has defended the expanded format for Euro 2016 and restated his opposition to the ‘triple punishment’ system.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the qualifying draw for the France Euro 2016 tournament, which increases from 16 to 24 teams, Platini said the expansion was a democratic decision taken by 51 of 54 national associations.

“In any democracy, when the vast majority are in favour, you go forward with it even if England or Germany aren’t for it,” he told reporters.

“We can have 24 very good teams, so this tournament can be a success.”

Platini and UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino also defended UEFA’s ‘week of football’ concept. From September, Euro 2016 qualifying matches will be spread out over six days, from from Thursday to Tuesday, rather than most taking place on one night of the week.

The Frenchman said the the ‘week of football’ plan was also an unanimous decision of UEFA’s member federations.

“It was a political decision. We took it to try and promote national team football. Clubs play on almost every day of the week and, as a result, national team football has been pushed out of the limelight. We would like to see it take that limelight again,” he told a news conference in Nice where the Euro 2016 draw was staged.

Under the new qualifying system, each day of the ‘week of football’ will provide eight to ten matches. Kick-off times will be mostly set at 18.00CET and 20.45CET on Saturdays and Sundays and 20.45CET for Thursdays, Fridays, Mondays and Tuesdays. On double-header matchweeks, teams will play on Thursday and Sunday or Friday and Monday or Saturday and Tuesday.”

The Frenchman said the ‘week of football’ would enhance the fan experience. “We want fans to have more choice,” he said.

“We want them to be able to see more matches at regular kick-off times, not only their own national team, but also all the best European national teams. This is also a question of infrastructure and providing the best possible facilities for media and fans. We are obliging our member associations to deliver modernised facilities in order to have the best possible experience,” he was quoted as saying on UEFA.com.

Infantino said the Euro 2016 qualifying competition “marks the beginning of a new chapter in the history of national team football”.

“At the qualifying draw ceremony in Nice, Infantino said: “The centralisation of matches through the concept of the Week of Football will put the national teams in a prime position and give them greater visibility, while at the same giving the fans more matches to follow and more excitement.”

“I would like to thank the national associations for placing their trust in us at the dawn of this ambitious project,” Infantino added.

Commenting on the expansion of the European Championships to 24 teams, he said: “This increase in the number of participating teams will, I am sure, enable us to develop the beautiful game in our continent even further, breathing fresh vitality into the associations which reach the final round.

“The quality of European football promises some fierce qualifiers and a brilliant final

The Euro 2016 trophy (Getty)

round, which will take place in ten modern stadiums in France.”

Platini on Triple Punishment

The UEFA chief labelled as “stupid” the triple punishment sanction – a red card, penalty and suspension handed down by a referee for an offence in the penalty area when a striker has been denied an obvious goalscoring chance.

Two dismissals in the Champions League last week brought the controversial rule into the spotlight.

“For 15 years we have been trying to change this rule,” Platini was quoted by Reuters as telling the Saturday news conference.

“All the technical committees of UEFA and FIFA are against this but when it has gone to the International Board (IFAB) it doesn’t change.

“I am against it, and I want it to be changed,” said Platini, who has called for refs to be given more discretion and expressed a preference for sin bins as a sanction, which are used in rugby.

The issue is only a discussion point on the agenda for this Saturday’s International Football Association Board meeting in Zurich.

Football’s rule-making body IFAB will also discuss the possible use of ‘sin bins’ and video replays at its AGM. No decision on ‘sin bins’ or video replays are planned either.

Euro 2016 Draw

Defending champions Spain head back to Ukraine where they won the 2012 European title. Also in Group C are Slovakia, Belarus, Macedonia and Luxembourg.

Euro 2012 runners-up Italy are in Group H with Bulgaria, Malta, Azerbaijan, Croatia and Norway.

Fifty-three nations were in the draw. The European qualifiers are made up of eight groups of six teams and one of five, who contest home and away fixtures. The nine section winners, the nine runners-up and the best third-placed side will qualify directly for the final tournament. The eight remaining third-placed countries will contest play-offs to determine the last four qualifiers for the 24-nation finals.

Group A – Netherlands, Czech Republic, Turkey, Latvia, Iceland, Kazakhstan
Group B – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium, Israel, Wales, Cyprus, Andorra
Group C – Spain, Ukraine, Slovakia, Belarus, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Luxembourg
Group D – Germany, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Scotland, Georgia, Gibraltar
Group E – England, Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, San Marino
Group F – Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland, Northern Ireland, Faroe Islands
Group G – Russia, Sweden, Austria, Montenegro, Moldova, Liechtenstein
Group H – Italy, Croatia, Norway, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Malta
Group I– Portugal, Denmark, Serbia, Armenia, Albania
Bye to finals (hosts): France

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson

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