48 team World Cup: The Pros & Cons
48 team World Cup: The Pros & Cons
Today is was announced that FIFA had voted to expand the World Cup to a 48-team competition. Footballs governing body decided unanimously to change the current format from 32 teams following a meeting in Zurich and the changes will come into effect for the 2026 World Cup.
The tournament will now see an initial stage of 16 groups each comprising of three nations, with two qualifying for a round of 32 knockout format. It means that there will be an increase in fixtures, with there now set to be 80 matches played rather than 64 however the winner will still only play seven matches as they will be playing one less group match.
It is thought that the increase will create around $1 billion in extra income, which has led to plenty of scepticism and people thinking FIFA are only doing it for financial reasons and not for the good of football.
The change has mostly attracted negative responses. The main fear is that an increase in participating nations will dilute the quality of football on show. For example if the number one ranked team and number 48 ranked team were drawn into a group right now it would see Argentina face Congo DR and without being disrespectful to the latter, it is hard to see it being much of a contest. This kind of fixture could also see the so-called smaller footballing nations play for a draw, with it highly likely that two stalemates would see you qualify for the knockout phases. This would lead to more dull matches which is something no spectator wants. We saw at Euro 2016 a similar thing happening with teams playing for draws and it made for a less entertaining tournament, with the eventual winners Portugal actually winning just one of their matches in normal time.
It will also mean that for some nations, the tournament will be extremely short lived. 16 countries will be knocked out in the group stage meaning that they play just two matches. Not only is this far from ideal for players, but it also gives travelling supporters who pay through the nose to get to a World Cup less of a chance to see their nation in action. It also renders the group stage pretty pointless, as it doesn’t even eliminate half of the nations and is therefore just allowing more teams to progress.
The last time there was a change in the World Cup format was for the 1998 tournament in France, when it was upped from 24 teams to 32. Since then we have seen some excellent tournaments in Korea/Japan, Germany, South Africa and Brazil and it is difficult to see why any change is needed when everything appears fine as it is.
Qualifying for a World Cup is a big thing for some nations, but that may be taken for granted now with it becoming easier to do so. It will make the qualification process less of a challenge, which defeats the object of sport.
Can it be a good thing?
There are however some positives to take in consideration. This will mean that the World Cup is more inclusive to nations who would not usually get an opportunity to compete. It should freshen it up a little, with smaller nations qualifying and it could make the competition less predictable with little known about those nations. Who knows, it may even allow Scotland to qualify though as the tweet below indicates they will probably still struggle.
It is unlikely to have too much of an impact on Scotland anyway. The vast majority of additional qualification places will be going to Africa and Asia, with Europe likely to get up to another three places – sorry Scottish fans you may have to wait for a further increase.
It was the intention of FIFA president Gianni Infantino to make the World Cup more inclusive, claiming that it would benefit “the development of football all over the world.” If you look at Iceland at Euro 2016 the new format there really benefitted them, so who’s to say it won’t help more nations like that.
There is also the possibility that this could actually make group matches in particular more entertaining. An early win will almost guarantee your progression and could therefore open up matches a little, although with draws also likely to be enough this is debatable.
The increase is also a major positive for the sticker company Panini. They produce a sticker album for each tournament and this news is likely to bolster their income, with more stickers now needed to complete their book. Some have already taken a satirical swipe relating to this:
It is clear to see that there are arguements for and against this expansion. However we struggle to see to much benefit for the main people that football is about – the fans. Whether it is because they will have less matches to see their nation or more low quality spectacles, it seems that supporters are not getting the tournament that they want and were happy with prior to the change.
Yes, it will allow more teams to compete. But the World Cup is supposed to be the pinnacle of our game where only the best participate, not a free-for-all where we just let anyone who can win one match turn up and play. The dilution of quality will lead to a poorer event in our eyes and it is a shame to see money driving decisions to do with the beautiful game.
Read more of our stories HERE!