Field of 64 for the World Cup?
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has outlined a new proposal for the World Cup to go from 32 to 48 teams. This is an increase on his original proposal of 40 teams as he was running for the presidency. This looks like a huge money grab from one of the greediest organizations in the world.
The problem with his new plan is that 48 teams show up for the World Cup, with 16 having a guaranteed place in the group stage and the 32 playing one game for the last 16 spot. Then the rest of the tournament proceeds as it has in the past. This means 16 teams go home after one game. Yes one game. To travel to another continent to potentially play one game and then have to go back is a tough pill to swallow. It means training for three weeks, after a long domestic season, before leaving for the tournament to play one game and then have all that effort go to waste.
Expansion is coming because if Infantino can’t deliver, his entire platform he ran on fails, so why not expand straight to 64 teams? Double the size of the field, give 32 more teams a chance to play in the biggest sporting event in the world. It would dilute the talent pool and the hard-core traditionalists will say the World Cup would not mean as much because “anyone can make it”. The expansion is coming, so why not make it come in one big swoop instead of trying to have to figure out how the new system works as it could possibly go from 40 to 48 then to 64?
The basic structure of the tournament doesn’t change outside of adding an extra round after the group stage. It also adds another 64 matches to the tournament meaning a larger amount of T.V. revenue that can be earned. There can also be a discussion about extending the length between group matches to allow for more rest or just keep it the same as the current schedule.
The amount of money that fringe countries of the 64 will be getting can be used to fund grassroots programs to increase the quality of their teams for the future. That is the easiest way for these countries to grow and get to the level of the top teams in the world.
Some of the big cons to this proposal are that a fourth of the teams in FIFA would now making it into the World Cup and qualifying will not be as interesting. Also the infrastructure requirements are going to be larger than in the past needing more financial requirements being used by governments that can be used for the social programs or construction is going to be used on stadiums that will be underused.
While personally I think it is better to just leave it with the current 32-team setup, expansion is coming and I believe it is better to go all out for it and give lower teams in the rankings a shot to get better faster instead of waiting 20 to 30 years before getting to this point.