Format means group rivals cannot meet again in final

VIENNA (Reuters) - Three of the last five European championship finals have been played between teams who had already met in the group phase but it cannot happen at Euro 2008 after UEFA changed the format of the draw.

Jaunty “see you again in the final” fulltime handshakes will now be replaced by the less appealing “Auf Wiedersehen until the last four.”

It is particularly bad news for France, Italy, Netherlands and Romania, who face off in a tough Group C, with the two successful sides having to meet again in the semi-finals if they both get through their respective quarters.

That means there is no chance of a repeat of the 2006 World Cup final, when the Italians beat France on penalties, or the Euro 2000 final, when the French beat Italy with a golden goal.

The disappearance of the system where anyone could play anyone in the final has also skewed the betting.

Bookmakers do not like what faces the Group C teams but have shortened the odds on the likes of Germany, Spain and Portugal, who on paper have a potentially more straightforward path to the final.

The reason for the format change this year is to equalise the rest periods during the knockout stage. Complaints were made in previous competitions that some teams gained an unfair advantage of up to a day and a half’s more rest between games as the tournament progressed.

“It was the only way it could be done,” said UEFA director of communications William Gaillard.

Four years ago, Portugal and Greece opened and closed the tournament, with Greece upsetting the party on both occasions by beating the hosts 2-1 in the opening game and 1-0 in the final.

In Euro 96 Germany beat Czech Republic 2-0 in their first group game then beat them again in the final when Oliver Bierhoff’s golden goal secured a 2-1 sudden death victory.

In the 1988 tournament, the first to feature 16 teams, the Soviet Union beat Netherlands 1-0 in the group stage only for the Dutch to more than gain revenge by beating them 2-0 in the final.

Editing by Trevor Huggins