Even before the FIFA Council unanimously voted for the expansion of the World Cup to 48 teams from 2026 onwards, staunch criticism of Gianni Infantino’s proposal had been all over the news for months.
Concerns over diluting the quality of competition resulted in plenty of over-the-top negative think pieces and ever since the announcement was made on Tuesday, football stories have read more like obituaries.
FIFA being a greedy, money-grabbing monster is hardly news to anyone and of course the main motivation behind its president Infantino’s expansion plan was dollar signs. That’s not to say that no good can come of this as a consequence, even if it was never the true intention of the powersthat-be in world football.
As someone who has watched her own national team, Egypt, fail to qualify for the FIFA World Cup since 1990 despite winning four African Cup of Nations crowns within that period, I must say I see this expansion in a different light than the bleak darkness projected by the European or South American fans of the game.
With Africa given just five slots in the World Cup in its current format, several strong sides, like Egypt, kept missing out because frankly the quota is not enough.
African teams have done well in the World Cup recently with Algeria reaching the last-16 in Brazil 2014 before narrowly losing in extra-time to eventual champions Germany, and Ghana making the last-16 in 2006 and the quarterfinals in 2010.
There’s a lot of talent on the continent but the current set-up does not really allow for it to gets its chance on the world’s biggest stage.
More slots for Africa in the expanded format doesn’t necessarily mean that a 48-team World Cup will result in meaningless showdowns between “minnows” like many are anticipating. Those worried about a lacklustre preliminary round can skip the group stage altogether and just start following the action from the round of 32 if that will make them feel better.
I for one would be keen to watch a team I may have never followed closely before and perhaps discover a talented player who had been playing in his home country, away from the limelight of the Premier League or La Liga.
Remember the fanfare created by Omar Abdulrahman during the UAE’s heroic run to third place in the Asian Cup in Australia two years ago? If this were the World Cup, the whole globe would have gotten to witness the magic of Amoory, who is a superstar in Al Ain but a relative unknown in many circles on this planet. There are hidden treasures within said “minnows”.
While the number of fixtures will increase from 64 to 80 in the expanded version of the World Cup, the tournament will still be held over four weeks, meaning it won’t drag on forever as previously anticipated, and a champion will be crowned after playing the same number of matches as in the current set-up.
Change is scary, and it doesn’t always work out, but while European and South American giants are wallowing over this, it’s worth noting that the World doesn’t just revolve around them and that “minnows” sometimes deserve a fighting chance.
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