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The merits of a 48-team World Cup (and sample draw)

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There are fans in certain confederations disappointed at the expansion of the World Cup to 48 teams in 2026.

A vocal group of Europeans already think it should essentially be a Europe-heavy tournament, and expect the expansion will lead to many blowouts.

Some American and CONCACAF fans worry it will dilute World Cup qualifying, snaring drama from so many fun nights across North and Central America.

[ MORE: World Cup expansion confirmed ]

There’s something in those arguments, but the gains will outweigh the losses across the world. In other words, we have to be careful that we aren’t living in an echo chamber that the political world would even find a bit goofy.

Consider New Zealand, by far the strongest team in its region, has not be assured a spot in the tournament unless it can win a playoff tie. Or great stories like Bob Bradley‘s Egypt, who was at the mercy of a home-and-home battle for a World Cup group despite going 6-0 in group play.

Look it’s easy to be selfish in these instances, but we are not likely to be dealing with the oft-cited “Tahiti in the 2013 Confederations Cup” scenario.

In fact, let’s consider how it would look. Let’s assume that the 16 groups of three teams still feature one seeded team and confederations remain separated.

[ MORE: Explaining the format ]

UEFA will get 16 teams, and have one team per group. CONMEBOL goes up to six teams, with CONCACAF going to 6.5. Africa goes up to nine, while Asia moves to 8.5. Oceania gets one, presumably, with the hosts snaring an extra.


Using ELOratings.net and the FIFA ratings, here is who would be headed for the World Cup:

Seeded: Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, Colombia, France, Portugal, Uruguay, Spain, Switzerland, Wales, England, Croatia, Poland, HOSTS.

Remaining UEFA (5): Italy, Netherlands, Republic of Ireland, Turkey, Ukraine.

Brazil Soccer WCup Colombia Ivory CoastRemaining CONMEBOL (1): Ecuador.

CAF (9): Ivory Coast, Senegal, Egypt, Nigeria, Algeria, Cameroon, South Africa, Tunisia, Ghana.

Asia (9): South Korea, Iran, Japan, Australia, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Syria.

CONCACAF (7): Mexico, Costa Rica, USA, Panama, Honduras, Canada, Jamaica.

Oceania (1): New Zealand

[ MORE: Schneiderlin off to Everton ]



Now a sample draw, where two teams would advance from each group.

GROUP A:
Argentina
Italy
Senegal

GROUP B:
Brazil
Netherlands
Egypt

GROUP C:
Germany
Ivory Coast
Mexico

GROUP D:
Chile
Republic of Ireland
Nigeria

GROUP E:
Belgium
Syria
Algeria

GROUP F:
Colombia
Turkey
Cameroon

GROUP G:
France
Qatar
South Africa

GROUP H:
Portugal
UAE
Tunisia

GROUP I:
Uruguay
Ukraine
Ghana

GROUP J:
Spain
Saudi Arabia
Costa Rica

GROUP K:
Switzerland
Uzbekistan
United States

GROUP L:
Wales
Australia
Panama

GROUP M:
England
Japan
New Zealand

GROUP N:
Croatia
Iran
Honduras

GROUP O:
Poland
Ecuador
Canada

GROUP P:
HOSTS (Let’s cater to UEFA and say, uh, Greece)
South Korea
Jamaica

[ MORE: Odegaard leaving Real Madrid on loan ]


RECIFE, BRAZIL - JUNE 29: Giorgos Samaras of Greece controls the ball against Oscar Duarte of Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Costa Rica and Greece at Arena Pernambuco on June 29, 2014 in Recife, Brazil. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
RECIFE, BRAZIL – JUNE 29: Giorgos Samaras of Greece and Oscar Duarte of Costa Rica  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

So, you’re getting more games and more meaningful games, each in their own individual television window. Even groups that seem clean cut — like Spain, Saudi Arabia, and Costa Rica — could be flipped on their ear by the end of the first match.

For what it’s worth, I would not end every match with penalty kicks and keep draws. I’d rather see extra time than an impetus for Greece to pack it inside its own 18 for 90 minutes.

But I believe we’d see something better from a 48-team tournament, and it would mostly end the days of, “Man I wish this list of stars was at the World Cup” (or at least make the list much smaller).

As for the “dud teams” involved, those countries get one less guaranteed game by the move to 3-team groups. And while in some ways qualifying would certainly suffer, consider the following scenarios. With CONMEBOL having 1.5 more spots, you’d see teams 9 and 10 alive longer in qualifying. That’s why it’s arguably an improvement for South America, who should’ve gone to a Hex-style format long ago.

What do you think? Are you bummed about the 48-team World Cup? Or is a lot of the furor rooted in a preference to dislike FIFA moves from the hop?

Follow @NicholasMendola

PL roundup: Liverpool runs rampant; Brighton, Huddersfield victorious

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Get caught up on all seven of Saturday’s Premier League fixtures…

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham — FULL RECAP

When Philippe Coutinho departed for Barcelona there was a question as to how Liverpool would perform without the Brazilian. Now, it’s safe to say the Reds are going to be just fine without him. Another dominating effort at home on Saturday has pulled the Reds up to second place in the PL, courtesy of goals from Emre Can, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah. Jurgen Klopp‘s side has now totaled 65 league goals in 28 matches.

Leicester City 1-1 Stoke City — FULL RECAP

Xherdan Shaqiri‘s brilliant finish before halftime looked like it would be enough to give the Potters a much-needed three points, however, Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland cost his side dearly with a howler in the second stanza. A powerful cross from Marc Albrighton, coupled by a darting run from Jamie Vardy, gave the keeper troubles, before he spilled the ball into his own net.

West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Huddersfield Town  — FULL RECAP

Second-half finishes from Rajiv Van la Parra and Steve Mounie helped go three points clear of the bottom three on the day, while West Brom looks very much buried in the relegation race. The Baggies pulled a goal back through Craig Dawson‘s finish, however, it was too late to provide a comeback for the last-place side.

Burnley 1-1 Southampton FULL RECAP

The Clarets sit seventh in England’s top flight, however, Sean Dyche and Co. have not won a PL match since early December. Southampton’s form hasn’t been much better though, with the Saints winless in their last 15 matches. Manolo Gabbiadini‘s finish was vital for Southampton, who are one of 10 teams separated by a mere six points.

Bournemouth 2-2 Newcastle — FULL RECAP

A victory would have been massive for the Magpies, who are muddled in the heap of relegation sides, but a strong second-half effort from Bournemouth helped secure a point for the hosts.

Brighton 4-1 Swansea City — FULL RECAP

The promotion side has opened up a four-point cushion in the relegation race after a brilliant home showing on Saturday. A brace from Glenn Murray, combined with Anthony Knockaert and Jurgen Locadia goals, helped the Seagulls move into 11th place, while Swansea’s offensive woes continue to prove critical in their attempt to stay afloat in the PL. The Swans have score a league-l0w 21 goals in 28 matches, nearly 0.75 goals per game.

Watford 1-0 Everton — FULL RECAP

Troy Deeney‘s strike with 10 minutes to play was the difference for the Hornets, closing the gap between the two sides to just one point. Everton struggled mightily on the day to muster up any quality chances, although to be fair, both clubs didn’t look like they were in the finest of form up front. The Toffees have been dreadful away from home this campaign, with just one victory away from Goodison Park.

Bundesliga wrap: USMNTs Johannsson the hero for Bremen, Bayern draws

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Goals were not abundant as the Bundesliga staged five Saturday matches without a single squad finding the back of the net on multiple occasions.

[ MORE: Projecting PL relegation ]

And there’s a shake-up at the bottom of the table after American striker Aron Johannsson’s substitute heroics moved Werder Bremen 14th.

Werder Bremen 1-0 Hamburg

USMNT strikers Johansson and Bobby Wood started on the bench for the hosts and visitors, respectively, as Werder Bremen and Hamburg dueled for critical points in the race to avoid relegation to 2.Bundesliga.

Wood entered the game in the 77th minute, but was upstaged when Johannsson again played super sub for Werder Bremen. The Icelandic-Alabamian’s shot pushed through the keeper and onto the doorstep for Johannes Eggestein to slide over the line.

It looked offside, but withstood all protests and reviews. Werder is now 3-1 in its last four matches, all featuring significant contributions from the previously rarely used Johannsson.

Hoffenheim 1-1 Freiburg

Andrej Kramaric scored for the fifth time in four matches to give the hosts a lead just after halftime, but Freiburg star Nils Petersen scored in the 66th minute to give the visitors a point and him 12 league goals on the season.

Hannover 96 0-1 Borussia Monchengladbach

Defensive midfielder Christoph Kramer scored his second goal of the season to give the visitors a 72nd minute lead, a 90-minute win, and positioning to potentially negotiate European qualification with a strong finish to the season.

Elsewhere
Mainz 1-1 Wolfsburg — Friday
Bayern Munich 0-0 Hertha Berlin
Stuttgart 1-0 Eintracht Frankfurt
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Schalke — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
RB Leipzig vs. Koln — Noon ET Sunday
Borussia Dortmund vs. Augsburg — 2:30 p.m. ET Monday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 24 19 3 2 55 18 37 10-2-0 9-1-2 60
 Borussia Dortmund 23 11 7 5 48 29 19 5-3-3 6-4-2 40
 Eintracht Frankfurt 24 11 6 7 32 27 5 5-3-4 6-3-3 39
 Bayer Leverkusen 23 10 8 5 43 30 13 5-4-2 5-4-3 38
 RB Leipzig 23 11 5 7 36 31 5 7-3-1 4-2-6 38
 FC Schalke 04 23 10 7 6 36 30 6 6-4-2 4-3-4 37
 Mönchengladbach 24 10 4 10 31 35 -4 6-2-4 4-2-6 34
 1899 Hoffenheim 24 8 8 8 38 38 0 6-4-2 2-4-6 32
 Hannover 96 24 8 8 8 32 34 -2 6-3-3 2-5-5 32
 FC Augsburg 23 8 7 8 32 29 3 5-4-3 3-3-5 31
 Hertha BSC Berlin 24 7 10 7 30 30 0 4-4-4 3-6-3 31
 VfB Stuttgart 24 9 3 12 20 27 -7 8-1-3 1-2-9 30
 SC Freiburg 24 6 11 7 25 38 -13 5-6-1 1-5-6 29
 Werder Bremen 24 6 8 10 22 28 -6 4-4-4 2-4-6 26
 VfL Wolfsburg 24 4 13 7 27 31 -4 2-7-3 2-6-4 25
 FSV Mainz 05 24 6 6 12 29 42 -13 5-2-5 1-4-7 24
 Hamburger SV 24 4 5 15 18 35 -17 3-3-6 1-2-9 17
 1. FC Köln 23 3 5 15 20 42 -22 2-3-7 1-2-8 14

Watford 1-0 Everton: Deeney, Okaka get it done

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  • Deeney’s 80th minute goal was 3rd shot on target for either team
  • Yes, we’re serious
  • Everton just 1W-5D-8L away from Goodison Park

Troy Deeney‘s late goal moved Watford to within a point of woeful and ninth place Everton in a 1-0 win at Vicarage Road on Saturday.

The win avenged a 3-2 loss at Goodison Park earlier this season, and Everton is 2W-2D-4L since Dec. 30.

Watford now has 34 points, while Everton has 35.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

An early free kick from Gylfi Sigurdsson was sent to the back post, but did not find a receiver.

The better part of the first half hour was physical if haphazard, and an Idrissa Gana Gueye slide from behind gave Watford a free kick from 25 yards.

Gerard Deulofeu hit that into the wall.

Tom Davies was the next to just miss on a chance, unable to reach a searching back post ball for Everton in the 53rd minute.

Watford raced to the other end, and Troy Deeney’s looping header didn’t have enough gusto to beat Jordan Pickford at the back post.

Stefano Okaka’s introduction threatened the lively up the game, but it took some time as much as the Vicarage Road crowd tried to inject life into a sloppy affair.

Kiko Femenia saw a late chance provided and denied by Pickford, who then collected a low effort from Daryl Janmaat.

Deeney then found Watford’s moment, lashing a shot past Pickford when found by Okaka in the 80th minute.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Who will be relegated? Projecting the crazy situation

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With 10 games of the 2017-18 season to go, 11 of the Premier League’s 20 teams are in real danger of being relegated.

Eleven.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League table ]  

A busy Saturday saw three “relegation six pointers” take place and we expected the relegation situation to become a little clear. Wrong. So, so wrong.

The only team who legitmately look dead and buried is West Brom, who sit bottom of the table and seven points from safety. Bye, bye, Baggies.

But if you look at the table below, just five points separates Brighton in 11th place and Stoke City in 19th place. Bournemouth sit in 10th in the table and they have 32 points to their name.



The all important thing at this time of the season is momentum and teams like Huddersfield Town and Brighton have it with back-to-back wins in the PL, plus all of a sudden Southampton, Crystal Palace and West Ham are sweating.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Another important factor for the final months of the season is the schedule.

With that in mind, below is a look at the schedule for the 11 teams in the mire and a projected points tally for each.

Wow. This is going to be incredibly tight…


Bournemouth
Remaining games: Leicester (A), Tottenham (H), West Brom (H), Watford (A), Crystal Palace (H), Liverpool (A), Man United (H), Southampton (A), Swansea (H), Burnley (A)
Projected final points tally: 41 points

Watford
Remaining games: West Brom (H), Arsenal (A), Liverpool (A), Bournemouth (H), Burnley (H), Huddersfield (A), Crystal Palace (H), Tottenham (A), Newcastle (H), Man United (A)
Projected final points tally: 40 points

Brighton
Remaining games: Arsenal (H), Everton (A), Man City (A), Leicester (H), Huddersfield (H), Crystal Palace (A), Tottenham (H), Burnley (A), Man United (H), Liverpool (A)
Projected final points tally: 38 points

Swansea City
Remaining games: West Ham (H), Huddersfield (A), Southampton (H), Man United (A), West Brom (A), Everton (H), Man City (A), Chelsea (H), Bournemouth (A), Stoke (H)
Projected final points tally: 38 points

Southampton
Remaining games: Stoke (H), Newcastle (A), Swansea (A), West Ham (A), Arsenal (A), Chelsea (H), Leicester (A), Bournemouth (H), Everton (A), Man City (H)
Projected final points tally: 38 points

Crystal Palace (11 games left)
Remaining games: Tottenham (H), Man United (H), Chelsea (A), Huddersfield (A), Liverpool (H), Bournemouth (A), Brighton (H), Watford (A), Leicester (H), Stoke (A), West Brom (H)
Projected final points tally: 37 points

Huddersfield
Remaining games: Tottenham (A), Swansea (H), Crystal Palace (H), Newcastle (A), Brighton (A), Watford (H), Chelsea (A), Everton (H), Man City (A), Arsenal (H)
Projected final points tally: 36 points

West Ham
Remaining games: Swansea (A), Burnley (H), Man United (H), Southampton (H), Chelsea (A), Stoke (H), Arsenal (A), Man City (H), Leicester (A), Everton (H)
Projected final points tally: 36 points

Newcastle
Remaining games: Liverpool (A), Southampton (H), Tottenham (A), Huddersfield (H), Leicester (A), Arsenal (H), Everton (A), West Brom (H), Watford (A), Chelsea (H)
Projected final points tally: 35 points

Stoke City
Remaining games: Southampton (A), Manchester City (H), Everton (H), Arsenal (A), Tottenham (H), West Ham (A), Burnley (H), Liverpool (A), Crystal Palace (H), Swansea (A)
Projected final points tally: 33 points

West Brom
Remaining games: Watford (A), Leicester (H), Bournemouth (A), Burnley (H), Swansea (H), Man United (A), Liverpool (H), Newcastle (A), Tottenham (H), Crystal Palace (A)
Projected final points tally: 27 points