The last thing tinkering with football’s World Cup needs is expanding the draw to 48 teams.
That makes reaching the final a certainty for 23% of the world’s nations affiliated to the governing body FIFA.
Drafting in extra countries does not mean lengthening the final tournament that is already 32 days long, but opens more stadiums to give more time on the pitch to small nations that are not currently good enough to qualify and are unlikely to ever reach the final stages of the competition.
On the one hand, the ideal is to give the minnows a chance, but will fans really want to watch a tea from Tahiti or some other outback?
“The game has changed. Football has now become a truly global game. Everyone is happy about investment in Europe, but what about helping outside Europe? They need to be open,” said FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
Change motivated by money
“The key message from clubs I appreciate fully has always been don’t touch the calendar, the dates of the World Cup or the burden for the players, and both these commissions fulfil them.
“We will play 32 days like now, we play maximum seven matches like now, 12 stadiums, like now, but give the chance for more countries to dream.”
The FIFA president stands accused of manipulating the schedule for cash.
The organisation predicts an extra £520 million profit will be generated by the change.
Instead of the current 64 games at the finals, the number will increase to 80.
An initial phase of 16 three team groups will see one from each knocked out as the group winner and second place team progress to the knock out stage from 2026.
The winners will play a maximum seven games at the finals.
Clubs and football associations in Europe argue the change in format will dilute the quality of teams in the tournament and accused Infantino of making a ‘political rather than sporting decision’.
At the 2016 Brazil World Cup, 53 nations competed for a final place with 24 teams reaching the finals.
Just how many out of the 211 FIFA members who will join the expanded competition remains to be seen.