UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino says that the introduction of a 24-team UEFA EURO 2016 final tournament in France next summer has been vindicated by a memorable qualifying competition.
Speaking at the play-off draw in Nyon, Mr Infantino underlined that unexpected results and group standings in the European Qualifiers had demonstrated the strength of European national-team football, with several countries now looking forward to their first appearance in a EURO final round.
"The qualifying competition has shown conclusively that the decision to increase the number of teams to 24 for the 2016 final tournament was the right decision," the UEFA General Secretary told the audience.
"A series of surprising results underlined the unpredictable nature of many of the qualifying groups, and a considerable number of teams – 32, in fact – were still contesting places in the final round when the last two matchdays arrived.
"Now, the dust has settled, and several countries are celebrating long-awaited qualification for a EURO final round – some of them for the very first time: Albania, Iceland, Slovakia, Northern Ireland and Wales.
"This provides proof of just how many European national teams have the quality to perform well on the highest stage."
Mr Infantino highlighted the anticipation felt about next month's two-legged play-offs. "The hopes of another eight teams remain intact," he reflected.
"The play-offs will take place on a knockout basis, which guarantees a wealth of excitement and thrills for Europe's football fans, as has been the case on numerous occasions since [they] were introduced for EURO '96."