Expanded World Cup not received well by the world


FIFA President Gianni Infantino spells out the format of the 48-team FIFA World Cup to a packed press room. Photo by Asif Burhan.

Europe has won the last three World Cups, an unprecedented run of success. Is this due to our continent’s strength or strength of numbers? Currently, Europe provide 13 of the 32 finalists while Africa, with the same number of Fifa member states, provides only five.

This leads to a situation where three of the continent’s giants, Algeria, Cameroon and Nigeria, are currently in a qualifying group playing for one place in Russia while England has gone a nearly a decade without a qualifying test.
While less than 10 per cent of African nations will be represented, up to half of the South American confederation could make it to Russia.

Europe and South America would argue this over-representation is based on historical success. After all their teams have won every single one of the 20 Fifa World Cups — nine South America, 11 Europe — yet this neglects the fact that this a legacy of a time when Europe and the Americas were the only regions willing to enter the tournament.

“Quite frankly if you listened to traditionalists all the time, we’d still be with six teams in the World Cup,” claimed North American and Caribbean Association Concacaf president Victor Montagliani.

“Football is about more than Europe and South America,” stated Fifa president Gianni Infantino, who was at pains to stress that allowing an extra 16 teams into the finals the World Cup would still only represent 23 per cent of their member nations, compared to the 100 per cent of the Conmebol nations who play in the Copa America and 44 per cent of the Uefa states who play in the European Championship.

Ideally, Fifa may have wanted to preserve the 32-team format while reallocating places to Africa and Asia but this has proved impossible in the past, leading to expansion first from 16 to 24 for the 1982 tournament, then from 24 to 32 for 1998. Now with Europe and South America still unwilling to cede “their” places, expansion for 2026 is again the only option.

Former World Cup winner Marcel Desailly saw the benefits of having more competing nations. “Every team that qualifies brings an enormous energy from this country.”

Dwight Yorke, whose native Trinidad and Tobago may have more to gain than others from expansion, was more cautious. “My biggest concern is that I don’t want the competition to have that loss of cutting edge, that sort of excitement,” he said.

Sixteen groups of three teams means no team will play more than the maximum of seven matches the four semi-finalists currently play.

There is a concern that a two-week group stage that only eliminates 16 of the 48 finalists may lead to a disillusionment with the early stages of the competition but, judging from the last time three-team groups were used in the World Cup, in 1982, there is now less room for error for traditional slow-starters.

*First published in The People’s Daily Morning Star in London.

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