SWC: Why the increase from 32 to 48 teams?

2018-08-03 13:39
Gianni Infantino (Getty Images)

Cape Town - No one - except maybe for a couple of the high-profiled losers - had anything but complimentary things to say about the overall success of the recently-completed Soccer World Cup tournament in Russia - some, indeed, going as far to proclaim it "the best World Cup ever."

And, even if this assessment contained an element of extravagance, no one could rightly dispute that the continued inclusion of 32 national teams struck a perfect balance of intrigue, excitement and sustained surprise in Moscow and the other enthralled Russian cities.

So, what then are the reasons and motives for FIFA under the persuasive cajoling of new president Gianni Infantino ignoring the old dictum 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it" and increasing the number to what could be an unwieldy 48 requiring three nations, namely the United States, Canada and Mexico, to stage the event in 2026.

The immediate question that comes to mind is whether contrary to FIFA’s trumpeted proclamation of a new lily white administration following the ousting of crafty, wheeling-and-dealing Sepp Blatter, little has truly changed, and the new president is only aiming to entrench his popularity and position of power among the members of world soccer's controlling body.

It was hardly surprising that a considerable majority of the 200-plus FIFA member countries favoured the switch. After all, with the number of World Cup Final qualifiers increased from 32 to 48 the remaining 160 non-qualifiers for Russia would have a better chance of making it to the Americas in 2026 with the greater number of places available.

As justification the "forty-eighters" and their protagonists are pointing to the fact that such powerhouses as Italy and the Netherlands failed to qualify for this year's World Cup finals, but they were afforded every chance of making it to Moscow and their missing the boat added in some way to the fascination of probably the world's most enthusiastically and emotionally followed sporting event.

What did materialise was that there were no lame ducks or hangers-on among the 32 teams in Russia and uncannily almost every game was gripping in one way or another - and this was truly at the root of why the event held mesmerising attention from the first game in which hosts Russia unexpectedly routed Saudi Arabia 5-0 to the controversial final in which France earned their second World Cup trophy in a controversial final against gallant, surprise packages Croatia.

With 48 competing teams, the World Cup is unlikely to hold such riveting, unending attention from beginning to end and a couple of the qualifiers might well appear out-of-place.

Africa's representation in 2026 will increase from its present five to nine and this makes it much easier for Bafana Bafana to avoid a further embarrassment, which currently exists from the failure to qualify for a World Cup tournament since 2002 - with participation in 2010 only due to the host nation being entrusted with automatic qualification.

Ironically and paradoxically, however, the quota for the powerful European contingent will only go up from 14 to 16 in 2026 and that means that one or two countries of the ilk of Italy and the Netherlands could still miss out.

As for the transportation of teams and fans from one of the three countries to another, expect some complications.

But for apparent selfish reasons the majority of FIFA members are as content as purring cats handed a walloping of cream, with the benefactor in the shape of the FIFA president seen as a jolly good fellow too!

So, one wonders if FIFA has truly changed its colouring, with some other questionable policy decisions emerging recently as well - or is it simply a case of one self-seeking pussy cat taking over from another?

And will a World Cup with 48 teams prove better for soccer than one with 32 participants? Only time will tell.

But right now it seems unlikely.

Read more on:    fifa  |  gianni infantino  |  sy lerman  |  soccer


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