UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino says the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying competition heralds the start of a new era for national team football.
Addressing the qualifying draw ceremony at the Palais des Congrès Acropolis in Nice, Mr Infantino said the innovative new concepts put in place would give supporters a greater opportunity to follow national team football – a crucial component of the game in UEFA's eyes, through its capacity to nurture a sense of identity, pride and unity among a country's fans.
"I am very pleased to be with you today for this draw that marks the beginning of a new chapter in the history of national team football," the UEFA General Secretary 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."
Under the Week of Football concept, national team matches will take place over six days from Thursday to Tuesday. Each day will provide eight to ten matches, as opposed to 20–30 games on the same day. Kick-off times will be set largely at 18.00CET and 20.45CET on Saturdays and Sundays and at 20.45CET for Thursdays, Fridays, Mondays and Tuesdays. On double-header matchweeks, teams will play on Thursday and Sunday, Friday and Monday, or Saturday and Tuesday.
In addition, the Week of Football concept will also enable supporters to watch national team football at weekends. At least 33% of the qualifying games will be held at weekends, compared with 10% for UEFA EURO 2012, thereby giving fans a better chance of catching the action.
"I would therefore like to thank the national associations for placing their trust in us at the dawn of this ambitious project," Mr Infantino added. He also wished the teams every success on the road to the UEFA EURO 2016 final round in France – which, he said, "will also be a historic event, as it will be the first EURO final round to involve 24 teams.
"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 round, which will take place in ten modern stadiums in France."
©UEFA.com 1998-2015. All rights reserved.