It may have slipped largely under the radar, but this morning in Zurich there was a vote held by the FIFA confederations on expanding the World Cup from 2026, to include more participants in the finals.
A vote, and Sepp Blatter not in sight doesn’t seem right, but not even that barmy old fool would have dreamt up this surely?
It’s bonkers. It’s completely unnecessary and ill thought out, but when has that ever bothered FIFA?
For those not sure what’s going on. Here’s a lowdown. New FIFA president once Sepp finally got pinched, Gianni Infantino pledged in his manifesto to expand the World Cup. This would have aided his ability to receive votes from the crucial regions of Africa and Asia confederates as they are most likely theoretically to benefit from any expansion. Fair play to him, he’s not messing about, and straight down to business with the ballot. The original discussion in the manifesto centered around 40 teams, but it’s obvious to most that the maths doesn’t add up.
Whilst 40 teams was still an option on the table, infantino went straight in with a new proposal to increase further to 48.
Mathematically easier to accommodate than 40 and no doubt more appealing to the smaller nations whose opportunity to qualify increases.
The first question is WHY? WHY would you need to change the World Cup? How many people looked at the World Cup in 2014 and thought, “hey, this isn’t working, let’s expand it”?
International football governing bodies don’t often get things right. The changes to the Domestic European Tournaments has been an unmitigated disaster. Scrapping the cup winners cup, destroying and rebranding the UEFA cup have been complete disasters and the knock on effect has been to change the face of domestic competitions for the worse. Where money means more than prizes. The FA Cup for example abandoned by teams playing weakened sides to focus on qualifying for the big European show.
The FA themselves have plenty of form. Semi Finals at Wembley for example. Adding Premier League development teams to the FA Trophy. You’ll struggle to find fans who think those two schemes have improved anything.
The International European Cup was expanded this year to 24 teams, just under 50% of the teams in the confederate. An odd number of teams for a natural split of groups and teams qualifying for the knockout stage. The tournament was a disaster, one of the poorest I’ve seen. The group games barely mattered.
When will they learn?
A benefit shared of the last Euros were it gave some traditionally smaller nations a chance to enter, like Wales, N.Ireland, Hungary, Iceland. Sure, that threw up some stories, but this is the World Cup. The Elite, The pinnacle.
Watching N.Ireland have a homecoming for reaching the last 16 despite losing 3 of 4 games is not what I want to see. All 3 of those defeats were to Nil!!
Why has anyone at the top of the game watched this tournament and decided still to push ahead with this motion?
The last expansion of the World Cup to 32 teams in 1998 did work. It created a natural split of 8 groups of 4 and allowed more representation from emerging nations, who added value to the tournament without detracting from anything else.
The Result of the vote today: Infantino wins. 48 teams will qualify for the 2026 edition of the FIFA World Cup. Of course he won, there was never going to be any other outcome despite how ridiculous.
The nations in lesser represented confederations have seen an opportunity to take advantage and press for an otherwise unlikely qualification. Infantino is as popular as can be, and his ever grateful ‘constituents’ will return votes for him forevermore as a way of thanks. Queue the next monopoly at the top of world football – and who knows what ludicrous ideas we’ll see implemented over the next couple of decades?
There will be an additional estimated profit of just over £500m for FIFA at that World Cup.
And what am I left with? A World Cup that’s ruined.
48 countries. 48! 48 out of 211 associations. There’s no doubt that there will be additional European spaces included in the extra 16 available, which will make qualifying a complete farce too for the majority. It’s too many teams to end up with a reasonably level playing field.
The tournament that we are left with will see 16 groups of 3, with the top 2 going through to the 2nd round of 32. It’s going to take 48 games to eliminate just 12 teams, and what proportion of those games will be Brazil annihilating Uzbekistan? Or Germany thumping Ethiopia?
Those two sides narrowly missed on qualifying for the 2014 edition.
The highlight of any World Cup is that first game of whichever nation you follow and the anticipation and build up around it. That’s gone now as the groups become a formality and cluster of forgone conclusions and dead rubbers in the majority.
To ruin the World Cup is a difficult challenge. FIFA have comfortably achieved it. And with the next World Cups in Russia, no doubt overshadowed by lack of fans and off field problems. And then Qatar, does anything more need to be said? Russia and then worse still.
Today we must all come to terms with the fact the we may have seen our last true World Cup where fans and football win the day, because now there is no two ways about it, money and power has won again and the World Cup and football is a poorer place for it.
Dan De Luca