It’s fair to say that FIFA’s plan to expand the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 has gone down like a bacon sandwich in a Qatari refreshment kiosk. But is it really such a terrible idea? There will be some benefits from the revamped format – the most exciting being the prospect of more knockout matches. With teams going head-to-head from the round of 32 onwards, it will almost feel like an international FA Cup.
This means there will be a greater chance of upsets, plus more penalty shootouts for those people who don’t really like football and only watch it every four years. True, the group stage might feel rather bloated with its unwieldy 16 pools, but at least that part will only last two matches. It’s well-known that the knockout phase is better than the group stages (apart from the 2014 World Cup where the opposite turned out to be true, but let’s not think about that now).
Unless something really drastic happens, like all the world’s strikers get injured except Simone Zaza, then there are guaranteed to be more goals in a 48-team World Cup. The goals themselves might not be better in quality, because some of the players scoring them and the goalkeepers letting them in will be bordering on incompetent, but the tournament will make up for that in quantity.
The 2026 World Cup will be like getting a family size bucket of Roses for Christmas rather than a standard oblong box of After Eights. Sure, there might be a few at the bottom that no one really likes, but overall they will keep you amused for longer, even if they leave a slight residue of self-loathing.
The European football elite has openly lambasted president Gianni Infantino’s expansion plan, fearing their highly paid star players will be forced to exert themselves more in the summer, but at the bottom of the football pyramid the news has been welcomed. For any country that has never qualified for a World Cup before, from Montenegro to Mongolia to Micronesia, that elusive dream just got a bit closer. What the wider world will gain from watching Germany v Mongolia is not so important, as long as the Mongolians themselves enjoy it. Which they will, especially if they lose by less than six.
Since Scotland last qualified for the World Cup two decades ago, the proportion of ginger footballers participating in the game’s global showpiece has dwindled year on year – with Kevin de Bruyne the sole role model for aspiring auburn youngsters in the modern game. This ginger decimation will probably be a blessing at Qatar 2022 with all that heat, but 2026 will be a make-or-break moment for ginger football.
For redheads and other marginalised minority groups, FIFA’s expansion could not have come at a better time. Noting that Scotland failed to make it to Euro 2016 despite it being increased to 24 teams, Infantino has acted decisively to maximise the chances of Scottish representation in 2026 and therefore save ginger players from extinction. He could not go any higher than 48 without looking like a lunatic.
“The money of FIFA is your money,” was the vote-winning pledge Infantino made to delegates in his pitch to become president. Therefore the governing body’s increased revenue from a bigger World Cup – estimated to be around a billion dollars – is surely good news for everyone.
As an international organisation with thousands of community projects, the more money FIFA makes the more it can invest in nourishing the game at the grassroots level. This is known in economics as the trickle-down effect. The only thing that could block this revitalising income stream would be an extreme level of corruption, but we surely don’t have to worry about that because Fifa is a one of the world’s most prestigious and established global brands.
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