In the first ever FIFA World Cup way back in 1930, there were just 13 nations at the tournament in which Uruguay hosted and won the illustrious trophy.
Jump forward 87 years and FIFA have announced that the 2026 World Cup will facilitate 48 teams. This jumps from a 32 team tournament that has been active since France 1998.
This increase in teams has create a divide of opinion from nations, clubs and the media. In this article I will look at how the new system will work, why it’s a good and bad change and some opinions from key figures in the footballing world.
How will the new system work?
The plan is to have 16 groups, each consisting of 3 teams. The top 2 teams from each from will then participate in a straight knockout. Going from 32 down to just the eventual winners. The winning team will still only play 7 games, which was a large concern for some international and club coaches. However the total amount of games has risen from 64 to 80.
There has also been a lot of speculation regarding the mini-league sorting rules, and many are suggesting that a penalty shootout could occur at the end of each draw, similarly to the Checkatrade Trophy in the UK.
Current FIFA President Gianni Infantino said “With regard to penalties, this will be part of the regulations to be decided a few years before the event, it is nothing for now.”
One of our followers on Twitter (@lv_footyman) also said: “don’t mind more teams but 3 team groups could lead to scenarios of teams drawing with each other to guarantee progress” This could cause issues with integrity of the sport, but as its 9 years away we’ll see how they work it out.
The decision regarding the allocation of World Cup places to Federations is yet to be decided, but for reference here are the current allocations:
– Africa: 5
– Asia: 4.5
– Europe: 13
– North, Central America and Caribbean: 3.5
– Oceania: 0.5
– South America: 4.5
– Host: 1
What have FIFA said about the decision?
The FIFA Board voted unanimously in favour of the change in Zurich last week, and Infantino was hugely in favour.
He said: “We are in the 21st century and we have to shape the football World Cup of the 21st century,”
“It is the future. Football is more than just Europe and South America, football is global.”
“The football fever you have in a country that qualifies for the World Cup is the biggest promotional tool for football you can have.”
“This football promotion, in many parts of the world where today they have no chance to play [at the World Cup], was at the top of our thoughts.”
So FIFA obviously seem optimistic, but how has the rest of the world reacted?
Safe to say, the public aren’t impressed.
The ECA (European Club Association) aren’t either, and the English FA have sat on the fence a bit.
More teams = More money
It is generally considered that the expansion of the world cup is a financial move by FIFA. According to their own research, the added revenue will amass to £521m. Also the added fans/tourism in the major cities will hugely boost the host nations economy.
I think the move is also aimed at smaller nations. If a nation can qualify for the Finals it will give them a real incentive to fund football in their country. Iceland at Euro 2016 was a great example (except if you’re an Englishman) of how a smaller nation can really surprise on the international stage. With more underdogs you’ll have more upsets!
Why it might not be a good idea
ECA have been quoted saying: “It will dilute the competitiveness of the tournament and, therefore, the enjoyment of fans”
I can see where they are coming from. The World Cup is about the greatest footballers on the planet facing off, not teams easily disposing of weaker teams. It may have a reverse effect and highlight an issue with qualification for the finals. As a result, fans may not attend smaller matches because they would rather attend a more competitive fixture.
Another interesting point is that due to the sheer volume of matches and teams that need training facilities. The move is suggesting that more Tournaments will be co-hosted. The favourite to host the 2026 World Cup is a joint bid between Canada, Mexica and USA. Many nations will not be able to provide 48 top class training facilities, let alone enough stadiums for 80 matches in just over a month. The only nation I can see hosting the competition as a solo host, would be China (due to the sheer amount of money in Chinese Football).
So was it a good move by FIFA?
I think after the Corruption issues within FIFA a massive shake-up was due. Something that would scream ‘We are gonna move on from what happened by changing things drastically’ so I can understand their reasons for a change of structure.
However, the changes won’t improve the competitiveness of the Cup, but it will promote football in smaller nations where football is less important. I personally will reserve judgement on the topic. The potential for a 48-team tournament is huge, but it needs to be correctly and professionally executed.
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