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Qualifying for Euro 2008

Paul Armstrong | 10:30 UK time, Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Arguably the best European Championship finals of all time were won by a Michel Platini-inspired host nation, France, in 1984. It's unthinkable now, but British television only showed two games live during the whole tournament: the final and a group game between West Germany and Spain.

This happened even though the BBC and ITV had the rights to show as much as they wanted to of the tournament. That incredible semi-final between France and Portugal - 3-2 after extra-time with John Motson's finest ever commentary on Platini's late winner - was only transmitted as late-night highlights.

The reason for this extraordinary state of affairs was that no home team had qualified. The powers-that-be decided that UK viewers wouldn't want to watch Johnny Foreigner from across the Channel unless we were involved, too.

Looking at the qualifying groups for Euro 2008, it's quite conceivable that the home nations will all miss out again for the first time since 1984. Northern Ireland are best-placed after an incredible season but face some very tricky away trips this autumn, Scotland have done fantastically well to stay in contention in a horrible group but currently lie behind France and Italy, and England are languishing in fourth place in Group E.

One thing that has changed since 1984 is that there will be comprehensive live coverage of Euro 2008, regardless of who is there. The BBC and ITV have paid a lot of money for the rights and, moreover, viewing figures for major football championships these days are huge for most games, not just those where a home nation is involved.

MIllions of people love their football enough to want to tune into, say, Holland v Spain or a rerun of that Germany v Italy classic from last year. There would rightly be uproar if British TV was to be as parochial in 2008 as it seems to have been in 1984.

All the same, for most viewers and most of the production team, the tournament will be a good deal more special if we do have some home involvement.

Michael Owen

Unfortunately, of all the qualifying matches, the BBC only has the live rights to England and Northern Ireland's home games, and even then only for the rest of this season in both cases. With Northern Ireland away in Latvia then Iceland, the only BBC Outside Broadcast covering football in the next week or so will be the one moving into Wembley for England's huge games with Israel and then Russia.

With four out of five remaining fixtures at home, England still have their fate in their own hands, but with draw specialists Israel up first, then a home and away battle of wits with Gus Hiddink, and no Rooney, Beckham or Lampard available for at least the first two games of the five, it's not going to be easy.

There will be nearly as many nerves in our studio and broadcast compound as we go on air with England v Israel on Saturday as there will be in the England dressing room. Let's hope we all have a productive few days!

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