Think World Cup expansion is great for world football? Think again!
World Cup expansion to 48 teams is bonkers enough for the Finals - but what about the qualification process?08 January 2017 | Mark Bowman
FIFA President Gianni Infantino is strongly supportive of the World Cup Finals expanding to 48 teams from its present 32 team format.
He favours 16 groups of three teams, with the top two progressing to a knockout phase of 32 (the "16x3" proposal). This won't extend the number of games the ultimate winner will play, but will allow for many more games to be played. More games of course, means more TV and more money. Much more.
32 teams to 48. That's 16 more; an entire 1970’s World Cup number of teams.
There have apparently been positive meetings with members of the Africa, Asia and Oceania Confederations. Of course there would be - each being offered more positions and in Oceania's situation, the long waited-for direct entry. Everyone's a winner, right?
I'm wondering firstly, who gets all these coveted extra slots?
On football rankings, enough could be given to the South American 10-team COMNEBOL confederation such that they wouldn't even need qualifiers!! A ludicrous notion until you think - hang on - the powerful European club lobby wouldn't have to lose their South American players for those pesky internationals on the other side of the world every few months. Messi, Neymar and co could be kept safely in cotton wool; the value of the rights to the UEFA Champions League goes up – and so forth.
But back to the "also rans" of world football. The quality of African football probably justifies extra representation, but what of our confederation?
Asia could easily be given another 3.5 slots, bringing its quota to eight. How would the qualification process work? We could have a final round of eight groups of four, with the top team each progressing. Probably a routine process for Australia, but with a likelihood of never meeting another difficult team along the way.
How does that encourage the development and interest in football here in Australia? If FFA have been courted about the 16x3 proposal, have they considered that we may never again meet Japan or Iran in a World Cup match?
And what of Oceania? Presently, the winner gets two challenging games to qualify. Under the 16x3 proposal, they will travel somewhere foreign to get two challenging games. It's a zero-sum, though at least at present one of those games is at home, with the prospect of local football development.
All the focus of World Cup expansion has been on the finals; I'm concerned hardly any thoughts has been about the qualifiers.
It's hard to see how a vastly diluted qualification process helps the development of international football outside of Europe and South America. Yet it's the other four confederations that will probably enthusiastically endorse expansion. For FIFA, it would seem to be all about the cash, not the football standards.
world cup expansion, world cup, gianni infantino, fifa