On The Left Side

Let’s take a look at FIFA’s plans for an expanded World Cup.

Hands up if you thought the departure of Sepp Blatter from FIFA would result in less inexplicable decisions from the game’s governing body?

Well, you were wrong.

Over the last few months the evil-masterminds of the global sport have been beavering away in the hollowed out volcano that is the FIFA Headquarters, trying to work out how they can balls-up the World Cup as much as possible.

Under the stewardship of supreme-overlord and boiled egg impersonator Gianni Infatino they have hatched a plan to open up the iconic tournament to 48 teams, 25% of the world’s soccer playing nations, for one gigantic, footballing free-for-all (a free for all which will no doubt result in the same mediocre football we saw at the expanded Euro 16).

The idea has been pitched as an opportunity for smaller countries to be given their chance in the quad-annual knees-up and help bolster international football in the developing world. A more cynical view could be that Infatino could use the move as a “trade” for votes from smaller footballing nations. Votes that will no doubt help to keep Infatino in his very profitable job for years to come. It’s a smart move. It works, and a certain Swiss gentleman used it to his advantage for years! Lets not even mention the extra ONE BILLION dollars that FIFA expect to make from expanding the tournament because, you know, its all about giving the little guy a chance, right?

Anyway, this week we found out a little more about how the whole thing could work.

The beauty for the World Cup has always been its relative simplicity. Originally it was: you lose, you go home. Then, FIFA threw in the group stages but it was still pretty straight forward. The top two progressed to the traditional knock out stages. Easy to understand and effective. Well, enjoy that whilst it lasts because come 2026 it’s all out the window.

In order to accommodate the sixteen extra teams required for the tournament FIFA are suggesting either having 16 groups of three teams, no drawn games and a complex system of progression or a pre-group stage knock out game – kind of like a post-qualifier qualifier. Neither seem that bad of an idea. It certainly would limit England’s underperforming embarrassment to just one or two games before an inevitable draw with Lichtenstein and an early trip home. Why drag it out for a whole fortnight, eh?

The real information this week was about HOW those 48 teams will be picked. Obviously more seats at the table means more invitations to the party and those invitations have been thoughtfully divided up amongst the participating confederations: Europe get 16 places, Africa get 9, Asia 8, North & Central America and the Caribbean 6, South America 6 and Oceania get just the single place.

This begs two big questions.

1) Does South America, who have produced 9 World Cup winning teams and players like Pele, Suarez and Maradonna get the same number of places as the USA and Caribbean who have produced… erm… Captain Morgan Rum? Yes, yes it does.

2)  Hang on. Thats just 46 teams. Thats not enough. Good spot Vorderman.

…and here is where it gets really complicated.

FIFA are suggesting not just the usual qualifying stages followed by a big flashy tournament. They want to add in a post-qualifying-pre-tournament-qualifying-tournament into the mix too. Popping into the diary around November time, six nations will compete in an inter-zone play off for the two remaining spots. One team from each confederation would feature bar UEFA who’s place would be taken by a country from the host continent. At this rate I think I’m going to loose interest before even the overly dramatic opening ceremony!

The best thing to do is not to worry about it so much. The World Cup in Russia is still going to stick to the tried and tested (and not at all lengthy) 32-team format and only take up the very compact one month of our lives. Sit back, have a drink, watch the football and repeatedly remind your non-football loving girlfriend that she doesn’t know how good she has it… for now!

For more on the World Cup and a load of other quirky football stories from across the week then check out Jim’s weekly satirical football podcast ‘On The Left Side’ here…