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.

Messi makes history, propels Argentina to final

HOUSTON —  Thanks to an inspired Lionel Messi, Argentina defeated a depleted U.S team 4-0 to reach their third final in three years and now await the winner of the Chile-Colombia match in Chicago to learn who their opponent for the Copa America Centenario Final will be.

Here are the key points to the Argentina victory:

Changes in the line-up

Due to the suspension of midfielders, Alejandro Bedoya, Jermaine Jones and forward Bobby Wood, the U.S. was forced to make four substitutions to the team that defeated Ecuador in the quarter finals and also forced manager Jurgen Klinsmann to play with a 4-4-1-1 formation instead of the 4-3-3.

The changes brought in Kyle Beckerman, Graham  Zusi and Chris Wondolowski who didn’t have an impact on the team.

Paying the Price

The biggest point of criticism for the U.S. is that from the start of the game they conceded the possession of the  ball and seemed to have come out with the sole purpose to hold Argentina for 90 minutes and the plan immediately back fired.

Less than three minutes into the game off a corner, Lionel Messi served a great lobbed pass into the left of the box where Ezequiel Lavezzi appeared unmarked to head the ball into the back of the net to after Brad Guzan was unable to get out to cut the pass.

From very early in the game Argentina was in full control of the game and was never put under any real pressure throughout the game.

The first time that the U.S. managed to get inside the 18-yard box of the opposition was until the 35th minute of the game when they were already down 2-0, and the first decent cross into the box was from DeAndre Yedlin looking for Wondolowski but was cleared by Nicolas Otamendi

To make matters worse for the U.S. was that once again early in the half Argentina managed to score the third goal through Gonzalo Higuain to finish all hopes of a miraculous comeback.

The final nail in the coffin came in the 86th minute when Steve Birnbaum lost possession of the ball in his own half, which Messi took into the box and set up Gonzalo Higuain to simply tap the ball into the net.

Making History

Messi once again has a great performance as he netted a goal and contributed with two assists to lead his team to the final.

With his 32th minute cracking free kick strike to the upper corner of the goal Messi reached scored his 55th goal for the national team to make him the most prolific goal scorer in Argentina’s history after surpassing the 54-goal record from Gabriel Batistuta.

To add to his impressive number of accolades, Messi also with his two assists became the player with the most assists in the 100-year history of Copa America.

Next Challenge

With the win, Argentina has reached their third straight final in the same number of years after falling to Germany in extra time in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, then fell to Chile in penalties at last year’s Copa America Final.

On June 26 we’ll find out if third time is the charm for Argentina as they await for their rival from the clash between the defending champion Chile and Colombia in Chicago.