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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.