For hardcore soccer fans, there's no better tournament than the European Championship. Too bad, says DW-WORLD's Jefferson Chase, that the bracket system pits the best teams against each other too early.
Former French star Deschamps and ex-Germany coach Klinsmann at the Euro draw
For me, the Euro 2008 officially started when I filled out an Excel file with my match predictions for the office pool. Defending World Cup champions Italy, I thought, were a good bet to make the finals, and as a dark horse, I figured I'd take the Netherlands.
Utter nonsense -- as I discovered when I had a closer look at the brackets. Despite facing each other in the group stage, in ultra-tough Group C no less, Italy and Holland would meet in the semi-finals, should both teams progress to the quarterfinals and then win their matches there.
That's because soccer's European governing body, UEFA, divides the sixteen-team draw into two halves -- with the winners and runners up of groups C and D (and A and B) playing each other, and then the two survivors meeting up one round later.
Holland thus could survive the Group of Death but still have to beat Italy again to reach the finals -- which seems a bit harsh. Meanwhile, Germany or Portugal could cruise to the big show without necessarily having to face another of the top European sides.
Soccer shouldn't copy tennis
Euro 2008 organizers clearly didn't understand the implications of the system used to determine who plays whom.
The top bracket/bottom bracket system is employed in other sports -- most notably tennis. But in tennis, individual players are seeded with relative precision on the basis of past results so that the system works to prevent the top two seeds from having to lock horns before the final.
Soccer ranking systems aren't at all precise. Indeed, at times they're absurd. In 2006, for example, soccer minnows the United States were ranked fourth-best in the world -- for reasons inexplicable to everyone concerned, including the Americans.
What's more, in big tournaments, host nations are not only given automatic berths, but also seeded among the top teams. The nominal top seeds in Group B, for instance, are not three-time world champions Germany, but co-hosts Austria.
The result is three top European sides (Italy, Holland and France) in Group C but only one (Germany) in Group B. And this year, the seeding imbalances have been magnified by the brackets.
In need of repair
The solution to the skewed system is blindingly obvious -- pair up the winners of the Group A/B quarterfinals with those from the other two groups. That way, teams that faced each other in a strong first-round group could only meet again in the final.
It's difficult to see why UEFA failed to see this easy remedy -- perhaps the draw was plotted out by mascots Trix and Flix.
Holland's historic win over Italy on June 9 was a great contest between two top teams -- and no real fan would object to seeing a sure-to-be-ill-tempered rematch in the final on June 29.
Unfortunately, due to organizational myopia, that fixture is not on the cards.
Jefferson Chase reports on sports for DW-WORLD.DE and DW-TV.