Why FIFA have got it all wrong by expanding the World Cup to 48 teams

Last month, new FIFA president Gianni Infantino confirmed that the 2026 World Cup will include an extra 16 teams because “Football is more than just Europe and South America” according to the Italian.

“We are in the 21st century and we have to shape the World Cup of the 21st century, it is the future. Football is global,” he continued.

The football fever you have in a country that qualifies for the World Cup is the biggest promotional tool for football you can have.”

It should also be noted that revenue is predicted to increase to £5.3bn when it becomes a 48-team tournament, giving a profit rise of £521 million.

Most will argue that you should not fix what is not broke and simply keep it at 32 teams. But I am not against an increase, I just feel that the format of tournament FIFA are going for will not work and will lead to a dull, forgettable tournament.

The 48 teams will be split into 16 groups of three, with two nations progressing from each group. This seems awfully similar to the format used at last summer’s European Championships in France, where three out of the four sides in four groups progressed.

This led many nations to go out with a defensive mindset in hope of getting draws or a smash and grab 1-0 victory as three points from three groups game saw many sides progress (unless you’re Albania, one of the few minnows who tried to win games).

Frankly, the whole tournament was a disappointment for fans, many of whom were hoping for another exhilarating tournament after the 2014 World Cup which produced many amazing moments and matches.

If FIFA wanted to increase the number of teams, they have should have increased it to 64.

“What!” I hear you growl in amazement, yes it seems very over the top, but it wouldn’t lose any entertainment value because if it would be split into 16 groups of four, then sides would be much less likely to play for draws as only the top two would advance into the last 32.

Messing around with the group stage structure is what made Euro 2016 boring, to be blunt, but it seems FIFA are following suit. If minnow countries know they can advance by getting three 0-0 draws, then that will be their aim and it will lead to monotonous matches and very few goals.

I agree with Infantino on his plan to make football big all around the globe. Children will be inspired if they see people from their country playing football on the world stage.

Expanding the World Cup means smaller nations who, historically, have been poor, may get a chance to put themselves on the map and influence children to take up the game.

Seeing an underdog thrive on the big stage is one of the things that makes football so entertaining, and that is what we want to see as football fans, entertainment.

For example, in 2014, Costa Rica, a country that did not even qualify for the World Cup in South Africa, and lost all three group games before that at Germany 2006, were no hopes in a group with Italy, England and Uruguay.

Not only did they qualify though, they won the group and went on to beat Greece in the last 16 before bowing out to the Netherlands on penalties.

Michael Umana missed the crucial spot kick just days after his penalty saw them beat Greece, but regardless, he and the other 22 members of the Costa Rica squad were now national heroes.

It is unlikely that we will ever see a scenario in the World Cup like that in the 1992 and 2004 European Championships when huge outsiders Denmark and Greece took the European crown respectively or when Zambia won their first ever African Cup of Nations trophy in 2012, but it is always a welcome sight to see an unfancied side play above themselves and catch the world’s eye.

A new bumper sized World Cup could see moments like these occur much more frequently.

It can be debated all night long, but the one thing I believe is a certainty, is that the 2026 World Cup will be far from the greatest.

Go all out, or stick with the tried and tested method.

The Author

Andrew Delaney

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