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France Beats Turkey, Italy for Soccer’s European 2016 Event

France beat Turkey and Italy to become host of soccer’s European championship in 2016, the first time sport’s third most watched event will feature 24 teams.

UEFA President Michel Platini made the announcement in Geneva today after his organization’s executive committee heard final submissions.

“It is a moment of intense emotions,” French Football Federation President Jean-Pierre Escalettes said after the announcement. “This is a beautiful day for us.”

France’s World Cup winning midfielder Zinedine Zidane was joined by President Nicolas Sarkozy to hear the announcement. Sarkozy pushed the bid following Paris’s failure to capture the 2012 Olympics.

France, which hosted the event in 1960 and 1984, has received government backing for 150 million euros ($185 million) investment in the construction and refurbishment of stadiums in 12 cities.

In the final vote, France got seven votes to Turkey’s six. Italy was eliminated in the first round.

Turkey had promised to invest 920 million euros on stadiums to compliment 27 billion euros in spending on improving the country’s infrastructure over six years. Turkish President Abdullah Gul made a late plea to UEFA’s executive, asking them to take “a new leap.”

France had been favorite to win following a review on the technical merits of each bid published earlier this year. The tournament is worth millions of dollars to the hosts in revenue generated from ticket sales and increased tourism.

Ukraine and Poland will stage the last 16-team competition in 2012.

The increased format means smaller teams will be able to qualify for the event, which Spain won in the Austria and Switzerland event two years ago. That tournament raised a record 800 million euros from television and marketing rights, UEFA said after the tournament.

The 53 eligible nations will begin their qualification matches in September.

The first championship took place in France in 1960 and featured four teams, which emerged from a qualifying pool of 17. The tournament was expanded to eight teams in 1980 and arrived at its current format at the 1996 championship in England.

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