The beautiful game has taken an ugly turn with FIFA’s decision to overhaul the World Cup.
Starting in 2026 (which is when Canada is considering a bid to either host or co-host with the United States and/or Mexico), the World Cup will expand from a 32-team tournament to 48.
The decision was made by the FIFA Council in Zurich, Switzerland. Under the new format, there will be 16 groups of three. The top two teams will advance to a 32-team knockout stage.
Sure, more teams means more opportunities for non-traditional teams to play on the world’s biggest stage. I mean, Canada hasn’t qualified since 1986 and after Euro 2016, who wouldn’t want to see Iceland or Wales at the World Cup?
But do we really need more teams?
Look at the 2014 World Cup: Cameroon scored just one goal while conceding nine in three games. In the last two World Cups, Honduras has scored just once and allowed 11 goals. Again, I ask: Do we really need more teams?
Under the current format:
- Africa: Five teams qualify
- Asia: Four teams qualify — One team advances to a playoff versus CONCACAF where the winner qualifies
- CONCACAF: Three teams qualify — One team advances to a playoff versus Asia where the winner qualifies
- South America: Four teams qualify — One team advances to a playoff versus OCEANIA where the winner qualifies
- OCEANIA: Zero teams qualify — One team advances to a playoff versus South America where the winner qualifies
- UEFA: 13 teams qualify
- Host: One team
With 16 new teams, one would assume that every confederation would get at least one more automatic spot. In the case of Oceania, that would mean we’ll see New Zealand every single year unless Tahiti pulls off a major upset. Does that really add to the tournament?
Nothing against New Zealand. In fact, I loved watching them play at the Confederations Cup and if they EARN their way into the World Cup, then all the power to them. But does OCEANIA deserve an automatic spot? If not, why not just merge them with Asia and be done with it?
But, while that’s more of an annoyance, there’s a bigger and more serious issue to look at: Corruption.
Here’s an example:
Red beats Blue 1-0
Blue beats Green 1-0
Under this scenario, Team Green could approach Team Red with a deal. If Green wins 2-1, both Red and Green advance to the next round, leaving Blue out in the cold. This is a very real and serious problem.
So yes, 16 more teams will get to experience the excitement and glamour of the FIFA World Cup but at what expense?
Then again, maybe none of this matters when you’re sitting at Commonwealth Stadium enjoying a World Cup game in nine years.