National team football in Europe can now look ahead to a healthy and exciting future, as UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino explains in the latest edition of UEFA•direct.
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Thanks to UEFA's member associations European national team football now has the platform on which to build for the long term, to reinforce its identity in the hearts and minds of fans across the continent.
The most recent step came with the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying draw in Nice, which has provided a match schedule that, while presenting a logistical challenge, also opens the door to an extensive overhaul in the way that fans will enjoy national team football for the next three seasons.
The Week of Football, across two series of European Qualifiers, for UEFA EURO 2016 and the 2018 FIFA World Cup, represents a fresh approach with six consecutive days of action. With seven such weeks dotted across the international match calendar for both competitions, fans can anticipate a true "appointment to view" – including multiple kick-off times at weekends.
It was essential that UEFA's member associations collectively supported such a radical change. It is an innovation which provides something for everyone. The priority was to address what was on offer for member associations, the teams and their fans. The Week of Football will do this by putting national team football in a prime position and giving it greater visibility, while at the same time giving the fans more matches to follow and more excitement. There have been other benefits too.
A lot of work has gone into the centralisation of the European Qualifiers, and UEFA was convinced it would make a compelling proposition across the board. Our broadcast partners and sponsors have eagerly supported the new format, and we will also see more national team football viewed by fans beyond Europe's borders, creating a truly global appeal in the process.
With a daily ten-match schedule, and a new timetable which will allow plenty of matches to be played on Saturdays and Sundays, the Week of Football is sure to strengthen European national team football's allure.
Crucially, our member associations have been at the forefront in the decision-making process leading to the Week of Football and centralisation. It is heartening to see that the constructive dialogue with all our member associations remains ongoing, with further deliberations on the future of the national team game to come. National teams create a sense of identity, a feeling of unity and, in times of success, a glow of pride among a country's football fans. UEFA and its associations are striving to ensure that national team football remains a key focal point of the European football landscape.