As said in his campaign to be elected new FIFA President, Gianni Infantino has gone through with his word and has expanded the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 teams. For those who aren’t too familiar with the World Cup and the developments that has happened the past couple days, let me catch you up. The World Cup happens every four years where 209 teams from six different confederations (one for each continent) compete to qualify for the final 32 tournament. The 32 team field is composed of the host nation or nations and the rest of the field is broken into the different confederations. Depending on the talent of each confederation is how many teams qualify from each confederation (for example, North America or CONCACAF sent 4 teams to the World Cup in Brazil in 2014). There are so many pros and cons to the World Cup being expanded and here are some of the most key aspects to the new and (improved?) FIFA World Cup
I’ll start with the good things about the newly expanded competition. The FIFA World Cup is undoubtedly the single biggest sporting event on Planet Earth. The glorious tournament is known to only have the best of the best from each confederation participate, this makes the World Cup pretty difficult to qualify for. Only Brazil has qualified for every single edition of the World Cup. Expanding the field makes it more inclusive and changing the field from 32 to 48 still makes it quite difficult. Expanding the field means that more of the world participates, which is the point, it’s the World Cup. This gives teams considered minnows, more of a chance to achieve glory in the same fashion that Iceland and Wales did during the new expanded Euros.
Some may see this as a negative because money is the root of all evil and of course FIFA is notorious for being evil with their money. The corruption, the top heaviness and moral absence of the FIFA hierarchy is all accredited to the expansive greed of the FIFA governing body. Higher revenue, however, has the potential to benefit every single confederation on the planet. If FIFA treats their substantial revenue with responsibility like they’re supposed too, then they could give a lot of that revenue back to the confederations can further develop football academies which would make for more talent all around the world and not just in Europe or South America.
The tournament will still wrap up in 32 days like before. This may seem like a con because that could mean that players play even more games in the same amount of days which could lead to injury. The new format takes out a group stage game and adds a knockout stage game which means a team could still play the same amount of games en route to the final as they would in the old 32 team format. If I’m wrong and extra games are given to teams in the same amount of time, then this could be resolved with perhaps adding another two substitutes to each team’s bench and each team should have the ability to replace a player that has suffered a serious injury that could keep them out for the remainder of the tournament. Yellow card accumulation suspensions should also be scrapped in order to keep teams healthy and not short of players who may be forced to play an extra 90 minutes that they normally wouldn’t.
A potential drop in quality of play. No offense to some confederations around the world but it’s pretty clear that the cream of the footballing crop reside in Europe and South America. No team outside of Europe and South America has won the tournament and I’m not too sure if adding a couple extra African and Asian teams would boost the competition. In fact, no team from outside Europe and South America has ever made the final of the World Cup. Last time a team from outside Europe and South America made it to the top 4? South Korea in 2002 when they co-hosted the competition and the last time before that? The United States in 1930. This competition is a global celebration that includes everyone, from Germany to San Marino but when it comes to the football itself, 2 confederations run the competition and perhaps expansion could bring in solely quantity and not necessarily quality.
More teams but still no seeding. This could mean that a final match in a group stage could lead to a stalemate that has been seen in the World Cup too many times. The group stage could make results more predictable due to the position each team is in. In the new 16 groups of 3 with 2 advancing from each group could lead to schemes by 2 of the 3 group teams, who’s mission is to eliminate the 3rd team from the competition which an equally beneficial result. Team A and Team B might conjure up a plan on the final day of the group stages to eliminate Team C. Team A and Team B might both need a draw to advance and eliminate Team C, so they pass they ball in the back for 90 minutes and successfully draw and eliminate Team C. Nobody wants to see 90 minutes of half-ass keep away.
It’s hard to say whether this is a good thing or a bad thing because I love the prospect of a rather small country walking into the World Cup and electrifying the competition the same way that Iceland lit up the Euros. Expansion could also lead to snore fest fixtures and absolute drubbings by giants over minnows. I personally would’ve rather kept the 32 team field because it makes CONCACAF qualifying a lot more meaningful. The hex could lose all of its value if more teams are let in. The 32 team field is a little crowded as it is, look to the horrific Cameroonian and Honduran campaigns of the last World Cup or the 2010 embarrassment that was North Korea. Cutting down 209 teams to 32 teams seems like the best balance of qualifying difficulty, and global inclusiveness. 48 teams is a crowded field for one host country to handle but the decision has been made and I personally adored the newly expanded edition of the Euros this past summer, so I for one, am walking into the new 48 team 2026 World Cup with great optimism and intrigue.