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.

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.