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Rob Burnett: Euros expansion has robbed England supporters of excitement

08 Oct | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Rob Burnett: Euros expansion has robbed England supporters of excitement

With nothing to play for against Estonia at Wembley on Friday, the Mirror sports writer laments how qualifying has gone from thrilling to boring

When the final whistle was blown at the tiny San Marino Stadium early last month, England had completed a thumping 6-0 victory.

The result made it seven wins from seven games in England’s Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and sealed the Three Lions’ place at next summer’s tournament with a perfect record.

And it all felt so terribly wrong.

It has been a long time since England fans genuinely expected the team to be in contention for honours at a major tournament.

The last three World Cups have been disastrous – but far worse than that they have not even offered England fans any glimmer of hope or excitement.

In Brazil last year, the side was beaten 2-1 twice in the first two games – fans didn’t even have the prospect of a final all-to-play-for group match.

In 2010, Fabio Capello’s team ground out two of the most soul-crushing bore draws against the USA and Algeria before an equally dull 1-0 win over Slovenia was followed by a 4-1 wallopping by Germany.

The 2006 World Cup was supposed to be the culmination of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s work with the England squad.

Instead it was a bore-fest for the fans with not one match exciting enough to get you off your seat.

The last time any England matches were exciting was at Euro 2004 when Sven’s team could well have won it had Wayne Rooney not injured his foot in that quarter-final with Portugal.

Instead of the tournaments themselves, it used to be qualifying for them that could be relied upon to get your blood pumping.

The old format for World Cup or Euros qualifying went like this: England get drawn in a group with one other top side and a few no hopers.

England then make a terrible hash of beating some of the no-hopers, thus requiring a heroic, backs-to-the-wall, pull-it-out-of-the-bag result against the other top side.

And somehow, with a few exceptions – Graham Taylor and Steve McClaren look away now – they would pull it off.

But it would always be exciting.

Some of England’s most thrilling matches were not in South Africa, Germany or Brazil, but at Old Trafford, Rome’s Olympic Stadium and Hampden Park.RomeThe match against Italy to secure a France 98 spot was a draw – a game, in fact, in which not a single goal was scored.

And yet it was one of England’s finest hours, against the odds and away at a world football power which had won its last 15 competitive home matches.

What about Paul Scholes’ brilliant performance as England beat Scotland at Hampden in the first leg of a play-off for Euro 2000?

And has there ever been a more exciting finish to a match than David Beckham’s 94th-minute free-kick against Greece that sent the team to the 2002 World Cup?

And now. Now Roy Hodgson’s side have qualified and secured top spot in the group – with two matches left to play.

A wonderful achievement, but one made possible because of the Euros expansion to a 24-team tournament rather than by the team suddenly becoming world beaters.

But where the team is now, with the players available, does anyone really think England will go to France next summer and win it?

No.

Qualification used to be difficult for England. It used to mean something.

Now the pattern is: qualify with ease from an easy group of no-hopers, then go to the tournament and get knocked out by the first half-decent side they face.

Wasn’t it better when qualification was hard? When it wasn’t a done deal?

True, England didn’t always make it – yes, still looking at you, Graham and Steve – but at least that made it exciting.

And isn’t that what sport is supposed to be all about?

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