Gareth Southgate hints it’s too easy to qualify for European Championships | Football | Sport
Gareth Southgate says qualifying for the European Championships is too easy ahead of Tuesday night’s clash with Kosovo at St Mary’s.
The England manager nervously added the rider that he sees the international football newcomers as the toughest test the Three Lions will face in reaching the next stage of the competition.
But he remains adamant that with 24 teams qualifying for the finals stages next summer, qualification has become overblown and stagnant.
“It’s always dangerous to comment when we have a game where there is a potential to drop points but across Europe in general there isn’t enough jeopardy in the qualification process to make groups as exciting as they could be,” he said.
“I’m looking at the games and there’s maybe a couple each night that you really might want to tune in to. I just think we have to be careful that we don’t devalue it.
“There are so many new countries to involve in the process, but we’ve got to do the right thing for the supporters as well.
“The beauty of the UEFA Nations League was that the lower teams had really competitive games where they had the chance to develop.
“When a lot of the teams lower down are playing big opposition, they end up sitting like Bulgaria did and like Gibraltar did when they played Ireland.
“Maybe you could have a shorter qualifying programme. We’ve got two and a half years before the next one, so I’m sure there’s a way of doing something.”
With FIFA looking to increase the World Cup finals to 48 teams, Southgate fears the problem could get worse as it was only when competitions were smaller that qualification had more meaning.
“When I was playing you had to win your group, and I think European Championships were only 16 teams so that makes a difference in itself,” he said. “The first World Cup qualifying I was involved in, Italy were in our group and you had to finish top.
“The big thing is the number of teams that get to the finals and I understand wanting to open that up to more, but I just think, if I’m looking at it from a football development point of view or an appeal of everybody else, then I would question whether it’s the right thing.”