Video Replay implementation won’t eliminate controversy

On April 26, FIFA President Gianni Infantino officially announced that video assistant referees will be used in the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia next year, the introduction of video replay into the game may be one of the most significant news in the world of soccer in a long time.

For many years, fans have been calling for the implementation of technology in soccer as it has become more difficult for match officials to keep up with the speed of the game.

This development is an enormous step for the sport of soccer, which will now offer referees an additional tool to help them make complicated decisions within the game.

However, I suggest being cautious with optimism. The VAR will definitely make the games fairer and will help decrease human error but under no circumstance, will end the controversy of decisions that are made by the referees.

First, keep in mind when VAR can be used. At the time the intention is to allow the referees to get assistance from the VAR under four different circumstances: Goals (which includes offside calls), penalties, straight red cards decisions and mistaken identity.

So, just like all other sports that use video replay, the technology itself has its limits.

In order for all of us to start getting familiar with what sort of aid the VAR can bring to the game, I came up with a few well known controversial plays.

Here are some examples of plays the VAR won’t even take a look at:

During the Copa America Centenario group stage game between the U.S. and Paraguay, DeAndre Yedlin committed back-to-back fouls both which the referee judged to merit a yellow card which resulted in Yedlin being sent off early in the second half. The second foul is a clear yellow card, but the foul he committed 90 seconds earlier was a hard decision to make. Although Yedlin slide from behind he appeared to win the ball clearly although his momentum caused him to bring down a Paraguayan midfielder, although that ended up being an important play because it became of two yellows, it wouldn’t have merited a review because the VAR only takes a second look at straight red card infractions.

Another good example could be the recent Real Madrid-Bayern Munich second leg match in which Bayern’s midfielder Arturo Vidal was given a second yellow card for a challenge in which he won the ball fairly.

Something else to keep in mind is that the VAR will only overturn a bad or missed call made by the referee in the game if it is indisputable. That means that even if there is a situation in which the referee likely made the wrong the decision but the different television angles do not provide sufficient evidence to the contrary, then the call will likely stand, just the same way as it does in football.

The best example that comes to mind is the penalty kick that was called in favor of the Netherlands against Mexico in a round of 16 game at 2014 FIFA World Cup in which Rafael Marquez was called for a foul on Arjen Robben inside the box in stoppage time of a tied game.

That play was very controversial at the time and is likely one of those 50/50 calls that can go either way and if the VAR were to take another look the call made in the field would’ve stood.

Most important of all are the situations in which the VAR will intervene, so that William Gallas goal against Ireland in the European World Cup qualifiers would be called back due to a flagrant handball by Thierry Henry in the build-up, that goal helped France secure their spot in the 2010 World Cup at the expense of the Irish.

That infamous play in November of 2009 became one of the biggest examples used by fans to call for the implementation of technology into the sport. A few months later during the 2010 World Cup Round of 16, two very poor decisions added more fuel to the fire. In the Germany-England game with the Germans leading 2-1, Frank Lampard took a shot from distance that hit the crossbar and dipped inside the goal at least 3-4 feet past the goal line but the goal was never given. That play eventually forced FIFA to implement goal-line technology a few years later. During the next world cup in Brazil such technology correctly awarded a goal to France against Honduras and a goal to Costa Rica against Italy.

The Challenges

The two biggest concerns that I have about the implementation of the VAR have to do with speed and procedure.

During the past Club World Cup in Japan, the Kashima Antlers were awarded a penalty after the VAR discovered a foul by an Atletico Nacional defender which the referee missed. The problem is that play continued and was stopped when Atletico Nacional had earned a throw-in in the opposite half and took the officials two minutes to determine to go back and call the missed foul.

Although the decision was the correct one, I can foresee a lot of outrage in certain scenarios.

Imagine you are watching the World Cup Final, the game between Team A and Team B is tied and the game is stoppage time, as Team A is on the attack, one of its wingers tries to send a cross into the box but the ball is blocked by a defender’s arm inside the 18-yard box, however the officials miss it and allow play to continue, then Team B takes advantage of the situation and go on the counter and score, the goal-scorer takes off his shirt as he rushes into the stands to celebrate with the fans but as he comes back realizes that his goal has been disallowed by the VAR because they are now retroactively calling the previous handball that had not been called. That would create a devastating swing of emotions.

To me that is the toughest challenge ahead for the VAR, to be able to identify a play worth reviewing and communication promptly with the game official to try to prevent such situations when possible.

It is also worth noting that neither team will have the ability to ask for a certain play to be reviewed and that responsibility falls strictly to the VAR, who has to be focused during the entire match and promptly and effectively communicate with the match official to let him know that a particular play needs further review.

Despite the potential issues that may need to be addressed the VAR just like goal-line technology will become a huge asset for the referees and the game itself to take out as many officiating mistakes as possible.

So far the only experience with this technology is from the Club World Cup this past December. The tournament only has seven games and making assessments on such small sample size is premature, but one as a fan can’t help to smile knowing the VAR has been recently implemented in the Australia A-League, and will be used for the second half of the 2017 MLS season, the next Bundesliga season, the 2018-19 premier league season, the 2017 Under-20 World Cup, 2017 Confederations Cup and at last during the 2018 World Cup.

So even it it doesn’t completely eliminate mistakes, who cares? controversy will always be part of any sport and it adds another layer of intrigue to the discussion. After all, we all enjoy a little drama.

 

 

 

 

Creation of CONCACAF Nations League would be a mistake

So far, 2017 has been a year of bad ideas in the world of soccer. I’ve stated my arguments against a 48-team world cup enough though. Now, the Confederation of North, Central America and the Caribbean Association of Football (CONCACAF) is looking into the possibility of organizing a tournament which mirrors UEFA’s proposal to create a Nations League competition.

UEFA’s proposal although it may have a few wrinkles to iron out, it’s a brilliant idea and I can’t wait for it to start 17 months from now, however, Concacaf is a much different region where most of its members have a pretty bad competitive level.

Although the new competition can provide a big benefit to some of the region’s national teams who play only a few competitive matches in a four-year cycle, this would be at the expense of the bigger soccer nations in the region such as Costa Rica, Mexico, and the United States.

I understand the reasoning behind the move, CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani has said that due to the creation of the UEFA Nations League which would replace most friendly matches, the ability to schedule matches against European competition will be very difficult, however, by creating this competition you also eliminate the ability of the region’s top teams to schedule games with better competition outside of Concacaf. The European teams would no longer be available, but that shouldn’t be the argument since very few teams outside of Mexico and the U.S. schedule games against European competition anyway.

But instead of just ranting about it let’s take a closer look at how this proposal could potentially look like before I continue to make fun of it. Concacaf has 35 FIFA recognized members, but the total number of members is 41, so that is the number I’ll use.

I created two different formats to get a better sense of the type of competition each team may be stuck with as part of the proposal. To properly do this I used the most recent FIFA Rankings to rank the teams. Since Concacaf has six non-FIFA members I will do my best to place those teams where appropriate.

The first format I’ll present to you would be made of five tiers of 8 or 9 teams each. This is how that could look:

League A:

MEXICO (1) COSTA RICA (2)
PANAMA (4) UNITED STATES (3)
HAITI (5) HONDURAS (6)
JAMAICA (8) CURACAO (7)

League B:

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO (9) MARTINIQUE* (10)
ANTIGUA & BARBUDA (12) GUATEMALA (11)
SAINT KITTS & NEVIS (13) NICARAGUA (14)
CANADA (16) EL SALVADOR (15)

League C:

FRENCH GUIANA* (17) GUADELOUPE* (18)
PUERTO RICO (20) SURINAME (19)
GUYANA (21) BELIZE (22)
ARUBA (24) DOMINICAN REPUBLIC (23)

League D:

CUBA (25) SAINT LUCIA (26)
GRENADA (28) BARBADOS (27)
SAINT VINCENT & THE GRENADINES (29) BERMUDA (30)
U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS (32) DOMINICA (31)

League E:

MONTSERRAT (33) TURKS & CAICOS (34) CAYMAN ISLANDS (35)
BAHAMAS (38) ANGUILLA (37) BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS (36)
SAINT MARTIN* (39) SINT-MARTEEN* (40) BONAIRE* (41)

The goal of this format would be to ensure the top teams in the region aren’t forced to play against teams that are ranked far below them, by only having a total of eight teams in the top tier, you can minimize the gap between the teams in the highest level of the competition. Also, in this format, you can have a championship game to be played between the winners of each group or a Final Four competition with the top two of each group.

The second proposal is a three tier system with four groups in each division which will make it similar to the UEFA concept.

LEAGUE A:

MEXICO (1) COSTA RICA (2) UNITED STATES (3) PANAMA (4)
JAMAICA (8) CURACAO (7) HONDURAS (6) HAITI (5)
TRINIDAD (9) MARTINIQUE* (10) GUATEMALA (11) ANTIGUA & BAR. (12)

League B:

ST. KITTS & NEVIS (13) NICARAGUA (14) EL SALVADOR (15) CANADA (16)
PUERTO RICO (20) SURINAME (19) GUADELOUPE* (18) FRENCH GUIANA* (17)
GUYANA (21) BELIZE (22) DOMINICAN REP. (23) ARUBA (24)
CUBA (25)

League C:

ST. LUCIA (26) BARBADOS (27) GRENADA (28) ST. VINCENT (29)
MONTSERRAT (33) US VIRGIN IS. (32) DOMINICA (31) BERMUDA (30)
TURKS & CAICOS (34) CAYMAN IS. (35) BRITISH VIRGIN IS. (36) ANGUILLA (37)
BONAIRE* (41) SINT MARTEEN* (40) ST. MARTIN* (39) BAHAMAS (38)

The benefit of this proposal is the fact that you only force the top teams in the region to only play four games although the groups may be slightly less competitive.

As you can see from the possibilities shown above, the number of games that a true soccer fan would watch is minimal. The true value of such competition would be to the vast majority of the region except for the top teams.

In my humble opinion, the best way to move forward would be to not have a League A to give those teams the freedom to continue to schedule better competition while providing a mechanism for the remainder of nations to get the constant competition to allow them to have consistent growth.

The problem, however, is that by doing that all the necessary revenue needed to invest on the Nations League wouldn’t be there if you didn’t have Mexico or the United States. So at the end of the day if Concacaf moves forward with the Nations League it will have to include all of its 41 member associations.

There is, however, one complex issue that Concacaf needs to resolve to spark interest in this tournament is to set it up in a way to make the U.S. and Mexico play each other, whether is a single group, or to have a playoff competition which opens the possibility to both teams have a chance to play each other with a title on the line can be the boost that enables this concept to work.

The same challenge will emerge in future World Cup qualifying where the Hexagonal will inevitably come to an end which may mean the two most important team in the region may not encounter each other in every qualification cycle as they currently do. In that case, this proposed competition may be the answer to allow the top four or six teams to be able to continue to play against each other.

Imagining the 2026 World Cup

By Edwin Delgado

After spending weeks thinking of how I could solve the travel issues associated with the United States possibly hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup, I successfully finalized a plan which I was eager to post on this blog sometime this week, but then something went horribly wrong.

Last week, Canadian Football Federation and CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani told The Guardian that the three North American nations: Canada, United States, and Mexico were expecting to announce a joint bid. Something that became official on April 10 when all three federations held a joint press conference to announce their plan to present a joint World Cup bid.

All the work I had put into creating a World Cup in which one side of the bracket played on the east coast and the other on the west coast which magically culminated in a final in Dallas had to be scratched. But no worries, I can handle this daunting task of fully dissecting how the 2026 FIFA World Cup North America would look like.

Just before we get into those details, I have to say that since the rumor first surfaced and until now I have been opposed to the idea. The U.S. is more than capable of hosting the world cup, Mexico needs some work but it has the basics in place and Canada definitely needs a partner.

I believe that for a 32-team World Cup the magic number of venues is 12 as Brazil and Germany used in the past and also the number Russia will use for 2018. Under that format, the venues would host an average of five games each with four of them hosting six.

The increase to 48 teams and 80 matches makes 16 the new ideal number. It makes scheduling easier as all 16 venues could host five games each, you can assign a group to each venue and the group’s winner will win the right to stay in that same venue for the Round of 32, meaning you have to reach the Round of 16 before moving from the initial starting venue which works great for the traveling fans who want to follow their team.

Including Canada wasn’t optimal but you could see that partnership working, just as it does in leagues such as the NBA, MLB and most notably the NHL. But now adding a third host in Mexico makes the planning very complicated.

Don’t get me wrong, Mexico the is only of the three countries in which soccer is the most watched and followed sport. The problem lies in the fact that all three countries are large and potential travel between the host cities could easily become a nightmare.

The reason behind U.S. Soccer’s decision to include its neighboring countries in the bid it’s because of how the global perception of the country has changed since in the last few months which could seriously hinder its ability to win the right to host the tournament altogether. The motive here is to project to the rest of the world that the tension between the countries is strictly confined to the political landscape.

How it would work

First and foremost, you have to understand that this tournament will have the vast majority of games in the U.S. with additional venues in Canada and Mexico, so here is the breakdown. I know that in the intro I mentioned 16 as the magic number of venues, however, because you’ll have three host countries, organizers will want to go overboard I chose 24 venues (16 will host three games and the other 8 will host four games). Any proposal with more than that number is simply ridiculous.

Here are the 24 chosen venues:

Canda (3):

BC Place, Vancouver

BMO Field, Toronto (Provided it’s expanded)

Olimpic Stadium, Montreal (Provided it gets upgraded)

Mexico (3):

Estadio Azteca, Mexico City

Estadio Chivas, Guadalajara

Estadio BBVA Bancomer, Monterrey

United States (18):

New Rams Stadium, Inglewood/Los Angeles

AT&T Stadium, Arlington/Dallas

Metlife Stadium, East Rutherford/New York

Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia

New Raiders Stadium, Las Vegas

NRG Stadium, Houston

University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale/Phoenix

Gillette Stadium, Foxborough/Boston

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta

FedEx Field, Landover/ Washington D.C.

US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis

Century Link Field, Seattle

Sports Authority Field, Denver

Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara

Hard Rock Stadium, Miami

Citrus Bowl, Orlando

Soldier Field, Chicago

Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City

Canada has more venues that could host games but geography is a challenge, Edmonton would need its stadium to be heavily upgraded. Regina and Winnipeg have good stadiums that seat more than 30,000 but are small cities themselves. Ottawa and Montreal are great cities but Ottawa’s largest stadium sits 25,000 and Montreal’s Olympic stadium would need to be reconstructed to even be considered.

Mexico is an easier decision the most iconic stadium, Estadio Azteca is a must, however, a full upgrade will be needed if they want it to be part of the tournament while the recent state of the art stadiums built in Guadalajara and Monterrey fit perfectly in the World Cup.

Similar to my previous post (Shame on you if you haven’t read it.) I went ahead and selected a possible field of nations that could make it to the North American World Cup. I based my selections mostly on current World Cup qualification standings from each region but note that from Europe I scratched Northern Ireland and Iceland in favor of adding Russia who is not currently playing in the qualifiers and the Netherlands who are having trouble in their campaign but are likely to have figured things out by 2026.

This is your field for the 2026 FIFA World Cup:

Host Nations: Canada, United States, and Mexico.

Concacaf (3): Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras.

Conmebol (6): Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Ecuador.

Africa (9): Egypt, Senegal, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Democratic Rep. of Congo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Algeria.

Asia (8): Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Korea Republic, Australia, Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, Syria.

Oceania (1): New Zealand

UEFA (16): France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Croatia, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Ireland, Sweden, Russia, Netherlands.

Play-In Tournament (2): Peru and Tunisia (Other participants: Trinidad & Tobago, China, Guatemala, Tahiti.)

Once again I made the best team from each confederation, except Oceania and CONCACAF an automatic seeded team in addition with the three hosts: Germany, Brazil, Iran, Egypt. The remaining nine seeded teams I selected using the most recent FIFA rankings but I switched two of those. The remaining seeded nations would be: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, France, Belgium, Portugal, Italy (Switched places with Switzerland), Spain, England (switched with Poland.)

Having all teams in the field I conducted a draw to determine how groups would look like:

Group A Group B Group C Group D
MEXICO ARGENTINA COLOMBIA CHILE
RUSSIA POLAND GREECE SWITZERLAND
TUNISIA NIGERIA SAUDI ARABIA ALGERIA
Group E Group F Group G Group H
BRAZIL GERMANY BELGIUM CANADA
NETHERLANDS SENEGAL URUGUAY IRELAND
BURKINA FASO NEW ZEALAND KOREA REPUBLIC UAE
Group I Group J Group K Group L
UNITED STATES FRANCE ENGLAND ITALY
SERBIA JAPAN CAMEROON PERU
IVORY COAST PANAMA SYRIA GHANA
Group M Group N Group O Group P
SPAIN IRAN EGYPT PORTUGAL
ECUADOR SWEDEN CROATIA COSTA RICA
HONDURAS DR CONGO UZBEKISTAN AUSTRALIA

Now I know what you’re thinking, where would all those games take place? I got you. I went ahead and produced a full World Cup Schedule showing you where each of the group games would be played and also went a little further in predicting knockout matchup to show you where some of the most intriguing and important games would be played.

Remember the goal is to avoid moving teams too long of a distance between games. Since the U.S. will host most of the games it made sense to have the Final and Semifinals in U.S. territory. Two of the quarterfinals I placed in Mexico, one in Canada another in the U.S. The most historic and iconic stadium of them all Estadio Azteca although it wouldn’t host the final I reserved it for the opening match and therefore placed Mexico in group A.

Here is how the schedule would look like with this field of participating nations.

June 10, 2026

Mexico v. Tunisia — Estadio Azteca, Mexico City.

Argentina v. Nigeria — NRG Stadium, Houston.

June 11

Colombia v. Saudi Arabia — Estadio Chivas, Guadalajara.

Chile v. Algeria — Sports Authority Field, Denver.

June 12

Brazil v. Burkina Faso — Rams Stadium, Los Angeles.

Germany v. New Zealand — Raiders Stadium, Las Vegas.

Belgium v. Korea Republic — Univ. of Phoenix Stadium, Phoenix.

Canada v. United Arab Emirates — BC Place, Vancouver.

June 13

United States v. Ivory Coast — FedEx Field, Washington D.C.

France v. Panama — Metlife Stadium, New York City.

England v. Syria — US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis.

Italy v. Ghana — Gillette Stadium, Boston.

June 14 

Spain v. Honduras — Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta.

Iran v. DR Congo — Soldier Field, Chicago.

Egypt v. Uzbekistan — Citrus Bowl, Orlando.

Portugal v. Australia — Upgraded Olimpic Stadium, Montreal.

June 15

Mexico v. Russia — Estadio Azteca, Mexico City.

Argentina v. Poland — AT&T Stadium, Dallas.

Colombia v. Greece — Estadio BBVA Bancomer, Monterrey.

Chile v. Switzerland — Sports Authority Field, Denver.

June 16

Brazil v. Netherlands — Rams Stadium, Los Angeles.

Germany v. Senegal — Raiders Stadium, Las Vegas.

Belgium v. Uruguay — Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara.

Canada v. Ireland — BC Place, Vancouver.

June 17

United States v. Serbia — Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia.

France v. Japan — MetLife Stadium, New York.

England v. Cameroon — Arrowhead Stadium,  Kansas City.

Italy v. Peru — BMO Field, Toronto.

June 18

Spain v. Ecuador — Hard Rock Stadium, Miami.

Iran v. Sweden — Soldier Field, Chicago.

Egypt v. Croatia — Citrus Bowl, Orlando.

Portugal v. Costa Rica — Upgraded Olimpic Stadium, Montreal.

June 19

Russia v. Tunisia — Estadio Chivas, Guadalajara.

Poland v. Nigeria — AT&T Stadium, Dallas.

Greece v. Saudi Arabia — Estadio BBVA Bancomer, Monterrey.

Switzerland v. Algeria — NRG Stadium, Houston.

June 20

Netherlands v. Burkina Faso — Univ. of Phoenix Stadium, Phoenix.

Senegal v. New Zealand — Century Link Field, Seattle.

Uruguay v. Korea Republic — Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara.

Ireland v. United Arab Emirates — Raiders Stadium, Las Vegas.

June 21

Serbia v. Ivory Coast — Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia.

Japan v. Panama — FedEx Field, Washington D.C.

Cameroon v. Syria — Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City.

Peru v. Ghana — BMO Field, Toronto.

June 22 

Ecuador v. Honduras — Hard Rock Stadium, Miami.

Sweden v. DR Congo — US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis.

Croatia v. Uzbekistan — Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta.

Costa Rica v. Australia — Gillette Stadium, Boston.

Round of 32

June 23

Mexico v. Poland — Estadio Azteca, Mexico City.

Colombia v. Switzerland — Estadio BBVA Bancomer, Monterrey.

Argentina v. Russia — AT&T Stadium, Dallas.

Chile v. Greece — Sports Authority Field, Denver.

June 24

Brazil v. Senegal — Rams Stadium, Los Angeles.

Uruguay v. Canada — Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara.

Germany v. Netherlands — Century Link Field, Seattle.

Ireland v. Belgium — BC Place, Vancouver

June 25

United States v. Japan — Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia.

England v. Ghana — Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City.

France v. Ivory Coast — MetLife Stadium, New York.

Italy v. Cameroon — BMO Field, Toronto.

June 26

Spain v. Iran — Hard Rock Stadium, Miami.

Croatia v. Costa Rica — Citrus Bowl, Orlando.

Sweden v. Ecuador — Soldier Field, Chicago.

Portugal v. Egypt — Upgraded Olimpic Stadium, Montreal.

Round of 16

June 28 

Mexico v. Colombia — Estadio Chivas, Guadalajara.

Brazil v. Uruguay — Univ. of Phoenix Stadium, Phoenix.

Argentina v. Chile — NRG Stadium, Houston.

June 29

Germany v. Belgium — Raiders Stadium, Las Vegas.

United States v. England — FedEx Field, Washington D.C.

France v. Italy — Gillette Stadium, Boston.

June 30

Spain v. Croatia — Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta.

Sweden v. Portugal — US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis.

Quarter Finals

July 3

Mexico v. Brazil — Estadio Azteca, Mexico City.

Argentina v. Germany — Estadio BBVA Bancomer, Monterrey.

July 4

France v. Portugal — BMO Field, Toronto.

England v. Spain — Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia.

Semifinals

July 7

Brazil v. Germany — AT&T Stadium, Dallas.

July 8

France v. Spain — Metlife Stadium, New York.

Third Place Game

July 11  

Brazil v. Spain — BC Place, Vancouver.

FINAL

July 12 

Germany v. France — Rams Stadium, Los Angeles.

UPDATE — During the announcement of the bid on April 10, U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said that the intent is to have the United States host 60 games, while Mexico and Canada would host 10 each, which is the same exact number of games I assigned each. However, Gulati mentioned the plan was to seek all games from the quarterfinals onward to be hosted in the U.S. In my proposal above I have Mexico hosting two quarterfinal games and Canada another, but because it’s still early in the process that may change so I’ll leave this proposal as is.

How a 48-team World Cup would look like

The vast amount of criticizing and outrage that has ensued FIFA’s decision to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams is unsurprising and for the most part completely deserved.

As much as I personally dislike the new 48-team format approved by FIFA in January, I do find it puzzling that many of the sports commentators who voiced their opinion had no concern it exaggerating when making some of their claims.

Last week’s announcement of the proposed allocation of bids per confederation was an opportunity for skeptics like myself and a large group of sports journalists around the world to pile on that criticism.

It’s no secret that the decision was based on two core premises: More games generate more TV content that generates more money, and the second is a political move by FIFA’s President Gianni Infantino to get full support for future FIFA elections from smaller nations who now have a much better shot at reaching the World Cup.

I could go on and on about it but now it’s not the time. However, while listening to a multitude of opinions out there, I noticed a particularly annoying trend that a large number of people in the journalism and social media worlds have spread around.

“Imagine tuning  a World Cup game to watch Salomon Islands against Nicaragua, that’s exciting for you?” I heard a host of a TV host say.

It’s absolutely true that the changes will dilute the quality of the tournament particularly during the group stage, however, you don’t do yourself or your audience any good by basing your arguments on outrageous and almost impossible scenarios.

Others resort to mentioning the first bad national teams that come to their head, other more responsibly look at the current FIFA Rankings to give people an idea of the type of teams that could qualify in an expanded field of 48. But no one has taken a realistic enough approach of how the field would look like under the new format, until now.

Methodology

I did what any responsible adult and contributing member of society would do, I wasted a full day at my day job to find the best way to predict how a 48-team World Cup field would look like (you’re welcome!). I managed to do just that using the qualifying standings from the last World Cup (Brazil 2014) and see what other teams would’ve made the tournament if the field of 48 was in place for the 2014 World Cup.

According to the latest proposal announced, 16 European nations along with six representatives from South America, six from CONCACAF, nine from Africa, eight from Asia and one from Oceania are expected to make up the field plus an additional two qualifiers.

Now, I’ll guide you through the process of what I did. The first step was to identify those that would’ve been if Brazil 2014 had 48 participating nations. The teams that didn’t qualify but would’ve in a 48 team tournament are Panama, Jamaica, Venezuela, Sweden, Ukraine, Romania, New Zealand, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Tunisia, Senegal, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Qatar, and Oman. Are feeling excited now?

Now, I made up a rule that I think could be very interesting to consider moving forward which could help give the qualifiers a bit more value. I used the following criteria to pick the 16 seeded teams: the host country (Brazil), the defending world champion (Spain) plus the best performers in all confederations excluding Oceania:  Argentina, Germany, United States, Iran, and Ghana who were automatically set as seeded teams.

The remaining nine spots were decided by the October 2013 rankings, the same FIFA used for the World Cup final draw, meaning Belgium, Colombia, Portugal, Italy, Chile, Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, Uruguay, and England would’ve also been seeded teams and France would’ve still missed out. I conducted a real draw at home (Yes, I have no social life) to get a sense of how Brazil 2014 could have played out if it had 48 teams. I used balls with the names of the participating countries and split them into three pots, the 16 seeded nations I just mentioned were placed in Pot 1.

I placed the remaining teams that made it to Brazil in Pot 2 and the 16 add-ons on Pot 3. The only rule of the draw was that no less and no more than one European team had to be drawn in each group.

Now the FIFA’s proposal calls for the first team out of all confederations except Europe to compete in a six-team playoff tournament to determine the six final spots in the World Cup, the participating teams could have been: Venezuela, Peru, Egypt, Iraq, Guatemala and New Caledonia. I picked Venezuela and Egypt as my two final teams.

Group A Group B Group C Group D
BRAZIL ARGENTINA BELGIUM COLOMBIA
AUSTRALIA BOSNIA-HERZ. IRAN KOREA REPUBLIC
ROMANIA BURKINA FASO PANAMA UKRAINE
Group E Group F Group G Group H
UNITED STATES PORTUGAL ITALY GHANA
NIGERIA ALGERIA HONDURAS CROATIA
SWEDEN NEW ZEALAND EGYPT JAMAICA
Group I Group J Group K Group L
CHILE SWITZERLAND GERMANY JAPAN
GREECE MEXICO IVORY COAST FRANCE
TUNISIA JORDAN VENEZUELA SENEGAL
Group M Group N Group O Group P
NETHERLANDS SPAIN URUGUAY ENGLAND
CAMEROON COSTA RICA RUSSIA ECUADOR
QATAR OMAN ETHIOPIA UZBEKISTAN

How about that? Even with a 48-team World Cup U.S. somehow still manages to fall in the group of death.

Even though there is a good possibility that you’ll have some very uninteresting groups such Group C (Belgium, Iran, and Panama) or Group M (Netherlands, Cameroon, and Qatar), there is still potential for good matchups in the group stage, not many but there are a few such as England  v. Ecuador, Uruguay v. Russia, U.S. v. Sweden, Switzerland v. Mexico, and Ghana v. Croatia.

One of the most outrageous exaggerations that I’ve heard from multiple people especially on television who claim they would never watch a game until the quarterfinal stage because some of these so-called pundits have no clue of what they’re talking about and have made no effort looking into how a 48-World Cup may look like.

I’m willing to bet all the money I’ve in my 401(k) (About $45) that any real soccer fan would not want to miss most of the Round of 32 matchups.

Here is a sneak peak of what they may look like:

Brazil vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina

Belgium vs. Ukraine

Argentina vs. Australia

Colombia vs. Iran

United States vs. Algeria

Italy vs. Ghana

Portugal vs. Sweden

Croatia vs. Egypt

Chile vs. Switzerland

Mexico vs. Tunisia

Germany vs. Senegal

France vs. Ivory Coast

Netherlands vs. Costa Rica

Spain vs. Cameroon

Uruguay vs. Ecuador

England vs. Russia

So, there you have it! a serious look at how a 48-team World Cup can look like. Later this week I will give you another example where I would use the United States as the host of the 2026 World Cup and select teams based on a combination of current form (Current 2018 WCQ standing) and historical accomplishments to build sort of a best case scenario. I will go a step further for that one as I will assign host cities and build a full schedule. Also, I’ll work on a different post in which I will reform each confederations qualifiers to keep them as interesting as possible, so stay tuned for those upcoming posts.

-Everything worth doing is worth overdoing.

Winners and losers from the March World Cup Qualifiers

The March World Cup Qualifiers produced a number of intriguing storylines which have added another layer of interest as the qualifying campaign inches closer to the finish line.

The latest round gave us the first team to claim one of the 31 tickets to Russia, a resurgence from the United States, and a number of storylines in South America which is likely headed for a photo finish.

Today, I’ll talk, or rather write about the biggest winners and loser from the latest round of qualifying and give you a peek of what to look for when the next round of qualifying comes this summer.

Brazil

It’s official, Brazil has become the first country other than the host Russia to book their place in the world cup. So it is now totally appropriate to stand in the middle of Red Square with a bell and a megaphone and yell “The Brazilians are coming! The Brazilians are coming!” to spread panic along the streets of Moscow.

This Brazilian team looks really good. They came in with a five-point lead in the South American qualifiers and came up with impressive performances and results. The Canarinha after finding themselves down 1-0 to Uruguay in the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo came back from behind to win 4-1 and five days later in Sao Paulo cruised to a 3-0 win against Paraguay which now has them 11 points ahead of the fifth-placed Argentina, who at the moment would be the team playing the Oceania champion in an intercontinental play-off.

Another big advantage of qualifying so early for Brazil is that airfare and hotel prices are much cheaper when you get them so far ahead of time.

 

Mexico

Four years ago, Mexico was able to advance to the intercontinental playoff against New Zealand after a fourth-placed finish in the Hex with only 11 points and only two wins in 10 matches.

This time around things are much different, last November Mexico began its road in the Hex by exorcising the Dos a Cero demons in Columbus thanks to a 2-1 win against the U.S.

During the latest round of qualifying Mexico secured two crucial wins, the first and most impressive of them was a 2-0 victory against Costa Rica who came as the leader of the Hex after the first two games.

Javier Hernandez opened the score in the opening 10 minutes to score his 46th international goal tying the all-time record for Mexico which was held by Jared Borgetti. Four days later the Mexican team dealing with several key injuries managed to go on the road and defeat Trinidad & Tobago 1-0 to put themselves three points clear atop the standings.

Colombia and Peru

Squeaking into the biggest winners column is Colombia, despite a lackluster performance at home against Bolivia, the team showed a much better display against Ecuador on the road who they beat 2-0. With the two wins, Colombia sneaks into second place in South America with 24 points and inch closer to securing their second consecutive World Cup appearance.

Peru who came in eighth with 14 points and six points behind the fifth place got to a rough start in Venezuela and trailed 2-0 at halftime and seemed they were about to being scratched off the list of potential participants, however with second-half goals from Andre Carrillo and Paolo Guerrero allowed Peru to rescue a point and a few days later at home once again came from and adverse result and defeated Uruguay 2-1 in Lima which rekindled their World Cup dreams as they closed the gap with the fifth place to four points. With only 12 points up for grabs, Peru will have to get at least eight or nine to challenge at least for a playoff spot.

Poland

Robert Lewandowski and company came to this game with a three-point lead at the top of their group and had to face their closest rival Montenegro on the road and thanks to a late goal from Lukasz Piszczek, Poland secured a huge 2-1 win over Montenegro to go six points clear at the top midway through qualifying. Romania and Denmark with a win would have overtaken Montenegro in second place but a 0-0 draw between them was a missed opportunity for both.

Iran, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Australia

With wins against Qatar on the road and China at home, Iran has gotten within three points of ensuring their place for a second consecutive World Cup. Iran now has a four point lead on the Korea Republic and five ahead of Uzbekistan with only three games to play.

In the other group, Japan and Saudi Arabia obtained all six points up for grabs, while Australia tied Iraq and then defeated the team chasing them the United Arab Emirates. Japan and Saudi Arabia have now secured a top-three finish meaning at worse they will advance to a play-off against the third-placed team from Group A (currently Uzbekistan), and Australia has increased its lead over the UAE to four points with only nine left to play for and remain in the hunt for one of the top two spots that will send them automatically to Russia.

Not their week

Argentina, Uruguay, and Ecuador

After defeating Chile at home 1-0 on March 23, Argentina was on my winner’s column. However, due to a verbal altercation involving Lionel Messi allegedly insulting one of the assistant referees, the Barcelona star received a heavy four-game suspension. Without Messi, on hand, Argentina traveled to La Paz, Bolivia where they were upset 2-0. The loss sends Argentina back to fifth place in South American qualifiers and now have to play three of their last four qualifying games without Messi. Even if the suspension gets reduced it’s still very likely that he will still miss the next game when Argentina visits Uruguay.

Not everything is bad for Argentina even if they suffer a loss in Montevideo, if they are capable of winning its two remaining home games against Peru and Venezuela it would take Argentina to 28 points which historically have been enough to earn an automatic berth, the only team that may be capable of surpassing Argentina and get them eliminated is Ecuador who’s just two points behind. If Argentina has not secured its place in the World Cup before the final game, the final match between Ecuador and Argentina in Quito could have huge repercussions for both.

Speaking of Ecuador, remember that after the first four games the Ecuadorians had surprised the world by winning their first four qualifying games including a 2-0 road win against Argentina. Well, since then Ecuador has only managed to get 8 points out of 30 in its last 10 games, including two losses this round against Paraguay and Colombia.

On a similar note the Charruas, also couldn’t manage to get a single point this round of qualifying. Uruguay lead Brazil 1-0 in Montevideo inside of 10 minutes but ended getting crushed by the Brazilians 4-1, five days later Uruguay once again got on the board first against Peru in Lima, but ended up losing 2-1. Uruguay remains third in qualifying but it’s only one point above fifth-placed Argentina. Uruguay has earned a spot in the intercontinental playoff in each of the last four world cup cycles. It seems to be their preferred method of qualification.

Netherlands and Wales

Looks like Orange and ineptitude now go hand-in-hand. Netherlands appeared to have overcome the ghosts of their disastrous Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, but then Bulgaria happened.

A 2-0 loss on the road to Bulgaria has put the Dutch in a tough spot moving forward. France the group favorites have now a six-point lead over them, and the team occupying the playoff spot Sweden who also won now leads them by three.

Despite the loss, the Dutch should at least win their next match in June when they host Luxembourg but the September round will be crucial for their aspirations as they’ll host Bulgaria and face France on the road. Anything less than four wins in their final five games will put the Dutch in a tough position.

Wales was able to get a 0-0 draw on the road against Ireland while playing with 10-men for more than 20 minutes. How come Wales made the black list then, you ask? Simple, by looking ahead.

At the midway point of qualifying Wales is four points short of group leaders Serbia and Ireland and are currently tied with Austria in points. Wales next game will be on the road against Serbia on June 11.

In their previous matchup, Wales missed an opportunity to defeat the Eastern European side at home after giving up a late goal in the 86th minute to Aleksandr Mitrovic.

The bigger problem for Wales is that they will have to figure out a way to come up with a positive result without Neil Taylor who was sent off in the last match after his attempted murder of Everton’s right-back Seamus Coleman, and will also be without their superstar and Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale due to yellow card accumulation.

If Ireland and Serbia win their June home games against Austria and Wales respectively, they will increase their lead to seven points with only 12 to play for. Bale’s World Cup dream could come to an end without being able to be on the field.

Uzbekistan and Qatar

Even as I try to be economical with my words, it was impossible for me to end without mentioning these two. Uzbekistan had a great opportunity to move up to second place in their group over the Korea Republic but miserably failed to take advantage of Korea’s loss to China as they fell on the road to Syria (although the game was played in Malaysia because you know, ISIS.) Uzbekistan at least managed to remain in prime position to at least finish third in the group by defeating Qatar 1-0, if they managed to finish third that allow them to play the other group’s third placed team in a playoff.

The problem for Uzbekistan is that they had been here before in their 2006 qualifying campaign Uzbekistan advanced to the playoff round only to fall to Bahrain, which later went fell to Trinidad & Tobago in the intercontinental playoff. Four years ago, once again in the playoff round they were eliminated by Jordan which went on to lose to Uruguay and by the look of things, this time around could be even tougher as they’ll most likely have to face Japan or Australia in a potential playoff.

If Uzbekistan keeps themselves within striking distance of Korea Republic a win over them at home in the final game of the round on Sept. 5, could go a long way in helping then secure a top two finish in its group and qualify for the World Cup for the first time.

Not many expected Qatar to reach Russia 2018, but yet their losses to Iran and Uzbekistan have eliminated the middle eastern country from World Cup contention which holds some significance as Qatar will now be the first country in the history of the sport to host a World Cup without having qualified for it before. The only other case is Uruguay in 1930 but that was only because they hosted the very first World Cup.

The month of June will be a relatively quiet round in qualifying, Iran is the only team that can book their place for Russia, but the September and October rounds will definitely give us a lot more excitement.

Expanded World Cup would be a disaster

Since he began his run for the most prominent seat in world football, now FIFA President Gianni Infantino expressed his desire to expand FIFA’s flagship tournament to include more teams from Asia and Africa.

He has said on multiple occasions that by expanding the number pf participants, FIFA can expand its footprint in additional regions of the world and the World Cup will be more of a world event.

Since he first introduced the idea Infantino has mentioned quite a few different tournament proposals on expanding the field of participants in the world cup to continue to further the reach and growth of the “Beautiful Game.”

I took a look at three ideas the FIFA President has mentioned and took a closer look at the good and the bad for each one.

40-Team Format

The first idea that Infantino mentioned was to expand the number of participants from the current format which has 32 teams and expand it to 40. The main idea behind this proposal was to add two more participants from Asia and Africa and one from South America, Oceania, North America and Europe.

The idea was to have an additional team per group, for a total of five teams per group with the top two advancing to the knockout stage. Each participating nation would have to play at least four games and the total number of games would increase from 64 to 96.

Why it is a bad idea?

At this time in the world of soccer, there aren’t enough quality teams that are being left out of the tournament to argue for its expansion and most notably the best teams left out are often European teams who were unable to secure one of the thirteen slots available. If the quality of teams is not there and only add teams for the sake of expansion, then you would see a lot of games particularly in the group stage that would be unwatchable.

Another reason to think twice before any sort of expansion is the fact that the leagues don’t want to see the tournament get any bigger. The best clubs in the world could easily have a dozen of its players called up for a World Cup and injuries and fatigue on those players are big concerns that could harm a team’s season, especially at the start. Moving from 32 to 40 teams. In essence, the addition means that the group stage will be played for three weeks a full additional week than what it takes in the current format.

What works?

Despite all the issues already mentioned there is something positive from this format and that is that teams will have to play more aggressively if they want to qualify for the knockout stage. With only two out of five teams qualifying for the next round even ties can hurt a team’s chances of advancing. Also, with the added difficulty of getting out of your group you can avoid teams that may have gotten lucky in one game to take a spot in the knockout round (Yes, I’m talking about you Greece.)

The Playoff Format

Not satisfied with the first proposal, Infantino then suggested he would like to see an even bigger tournament with 48 teams. The format he envisioned included an early playoff round between 32 teams, with the 16 winners joining the other 16 already qualified teams to the Group Stage, from that point on the tournament would play out the same way as the current tournament.

Why is it a bad idea?

This is an easy one. Just imagine having 16 teams traveling to the host nation and be sent home just a few days later after losing their first game. Also with a lot of smaller nation taking part in the playoffs you run the risk of seeing many of them parking the bus to try to pull an upset and get themselves into the group stage.

What works?

The format itself is ridiculous which is the reason it was scrapped fairly quickly. The only positive out of this particular proposal is once the number of teams is down to 32, the tournament will play out the same way as it currently does.

Latest Proposal

Because the previous format is simply outrageous, the new format that has been discussed is to have a total of 16 groups of three teams each with the top two teams advancing to the 32-team knockout stage. It is a simpler format than the 24-team European Championship but let’s take a closer look at what this proposal entails.

Why is it a bad idea?

Adding another 16 teams is too big of an expansion to go for, to some extent the first stage will only be about eliminating the 16 add-ons and have the 32 teams that usually make the world cup play straight single elimination games after.

Let’s pretend for a bit that the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil would’ve had 48 teams. Let’s say you extend Asian representation from 4.5 slots to 8, African nations from 5 to 9, South American nations 4.5 to 7, Concacaf countries from 3.5 to 6, European representation from 13 to 15, 2 teams from Oceania and the host.

So who the additional teams would’ve been?

From Asia: Jordan, Uzbekistan, Qatar and Oman.

Africa: Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal and Burkina Faso.

South America: Venezuela and Peru.

CONCACAF: Panama and Jamaica.

Europe: Sweden and Ukraine.

Oceania: New Zealand and New Caledonia.

At the end of the day, you have to be able to take a step back and argue that the teams mentioned above are deserving of a place at the World Cup.

Also by having an odd number of teams in each group the teams that rest in the first and final rounds are at a disadvantage.

What works?

At least this format only extends the number of games from 64 to 80 which is still manageable. Also, the format has a little flexibility to prevent it from extending too much in the number of games.

Conclusion

The possible change of format is solely a move to generate more revenue, it generates more games fro which more tickets are sold and larger TV deals that can be negotiated.

Choosing expansion only thinking about the money and have no regard for the quality of the product will only hurt the most important single-sport event in the world, the groups stage will become an afterthought and you will get stuck with way too many tight single-elimination games that will result in many teams opting for a more conservative approach for those games.

If you want to make changes, the best approach will be to reform the qualification for each confederation to ensure the best teams from each continent reach the World Cup not just stuff the tournaments with many undeserving teams.

 

 

 

Rui Patricio heroics lift Portugal to first Euro title

SAINT DENIS– An handful of brilliant saves by Portugal goalkeeper  Rui Patricio kept Portugal in the game and with a strike from distance from Eder in Extra Time gave Portugal a 1-0 win to earn their first major trophy in its history.

With the win Portugal broke the hearts of the host nation in a similar fashion in which Portuguese hearts were broken 12 years ago when Portugal was upset at home in the 2004 EURO by Greece.

France for all the marbles

From the beginning of the game France came out determined to take command of the game, just five minutes in Moussa Sissoko and Antonie Griezmann took shots from distance that went wide of the mark.

One of the best chances of the game for France came in the 10th minute when Dimitri Payet found Griezmann with a long cross found Griezmann whose header was heading into the top corner but Rui Patricio made a key save.

Despite the early dominance France wasn’t able to manage to score and slowly the game became more difficult for the hosts as the minutes passed by.

Midway through the second half France regained control of the game forcing Rui Patricio into a couple more interventions. The last great chance in the game for the French came in the 92nd minute when Andre Pierre Gignac took a shot that beat Rui Patricio but hit the post.

Early setback

Just nine minutes in Payet collided into Cristiano Ronaldo which caused some damage to Ronaldo’s left knee. It was at the 24th minute when he had to be substituted due to the severity of his injury.

Despite that it looked as if France had a clear path to win its third major title at home, but after Ronaldo’s unexpected exit from the game, France took its foot off the gas and failed to create danger for the remaining of the first half.

Substitutions that made the difference

France had been better in the game but wasn’t creating a lot of goal opportunities, what the team needed was someone that could play at a different speed and that is exactly what they got when Kingsley Coman cam into the game.

In the 66th minute a cross from Coman into the box found Griezmann with space but his header sailed just high of the goal.

On the other hand manger Fernando Santos introduced striker Eder into the game and despite not generating much danger himself he allowed the midfielders that were playing up high Nani and Ricardo Quaresma to be able to back up and play in their natural positions which allowed the team to keep more possession in their opponents’ half.

Eder’s ability to play as post allowed him to retain the ball up high and then set up teammates coming in behind him, he was crucial part in earning a couple of free kicks and corners for the team

The lone opportunity that Portugal generated in regulation came in the 80th minute. Nani who sent a ball destined for Eder instead took direction to goal and forced a save by Lloris, Quaresma who won the rebound attempted a bicycle that was also well handled by Lloris.

Despite a clear dominance from France in the 90 minutes of regulation, it was Portugal who became the most dangerous team in extra time. An Eder’s  header from close range was contained by Lloris at the 104th minute. A free kick from Raphael Guerreiro hit the crossbar in the 108th minute.

The game changing moment came in the 109th minute when Eder found the ball in the left flank, cut inside and fought off the pressure of Laurent Koscielny and took a shot from distance that beat Lloris in the bottom corner to give Portugal a surprising lead and became the championship winning goal.

Rui Patricio steals the show

The save on Grizmann’s header just 10 minutes in but it was just once of many time that his involvement was needed. Rui Patricio also made more comfortable saves to a couple of shots from Sissoko near the end of the first half.

His services were needed once again in the 75th when Giroud was the recipient of a through ball and took a shot that Patricio was able to keep out. Nine minutes later Sissoko once again from long-range and once again with an acrobatic save Rui Patricio was able to keep the shot from going into the back of the net.

Aftermath

The 1-0 victory became the first major trophy in Portuguese football history. Although the style of play from Portugal has not been up to par to match the talent they have on the pitch, the team was able to grind out results and took full advantage that the French teamed looked out of gas after the 90 minutes.

Portugal became the 7th team to earn a spot in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup were Russia, Germany, Australia, Chile, Mexico and New Zealand are already awaiting.

The UEFA EURO 2020 will take place across 13 different cities from 13 different countries. The host cities in 2020 will be Dublin, Glasgow, Bilbao, Budapest, Amsterdam, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Brussels, Munich, Rome, Saint Petersburg, Baku and London which will host the semifinals and final of the tournament.