FIFA World Cup Expansion Is a Bad Idea
Major news broke just about a month ago that you probably missed because you were busy paying attention to the NFL Playoffs, current NBA storylines and MLB free agency.
In case you missed it: the FIFA World Cup is expanding to 48 teams, starting in 2026.
The FIFA Council voted to unanimously expand the World Cup competition pool for an obvious reason: money.
I’m not foolish, and I understand that sports organizations base most of their decisions on what is most profitable and financially intelligent. But FIFA is making a mistake with its decision to increase the number of competitors in each World Cup.
1. It changes the format, and not in a good way. With the expansion to 48 teams, the World Cup group stage will feature 16 groups of three teams. This means the top two teams from each group will advance to a 32-team knockout bracket.
The larger knockout bracket sounds appealing, but anytime you have more groups and fewer teams per group, you guarantee more teams the opportunity to advance without goals and/or wins. Teams suddenly start playing for 0-0 draws and all-defensive matches, something soccer fans don’t want to see more of. Euro 2016 is a perfect example of how allowing more than 50 percent of the teams in a group to advance is a bad thing.
2. The quality of the group stage games decreases. Similar to some of the latter aspects in my first point, three-team groups mean two of every three teams advance to the knockout rounds. Teams begin to play for 0-0 ties or are content with laying back and playing defensively. Competing teams stop competing; they know it doesn’t take a win to advance to the knockout rounds anymore, not to mention more blowouts between high quality nations like Germany and smaller soccer nations with less prestige and soccer history.
Plus, the time period between the first game and championship match is supposed to remain the same. Basically, you’ll have more games and less rest over the span of a month, adding to player fatigue and a decline in quality of play.
3. It guarantees the larger nations spots in the World Cup. Gone are the days of when the U.S. men’s national team has to sweat and work twice as hard to overcome an 0-2 start in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Larger or more traditional soccer nations no longer have to work hard or stretch themselves to guarantee a spot in global competition every four years.
A shocker like the Netherlands missing Euro 2016 won’t happen with an expanded World Cup field.
4. 48 is just far too many teams. It’ll be great to see new nations make their first World Cup tournaments, but it’ll also mean the quality of teams making the World Cup lessens. More spots open the door for worse teams, meaning even more blowouts between the world’s best and first-time World Cup competitors. Each match brings less prestige and intrigue and makes hosting more of a hassle than ever.
Jeff Thurn said he wanted to watch more soccer as part of his New Year’s Resolutions and FIFA obliged. Unfortunately, it’ll come at a cost.