FIFA president Gianni Infantino isn’t playing it safe when it comes to World Cup expansion.
In what would be a victory for the jet fuel and tourism industries — tongue firmly in cheek — Infantino has spoken of a 48-team World Cup that would amount to, essentially, 16 one-and-dones before the group stage.
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It’s a move that would further incentivize qualifying as strongly as possible, as the top 16 teams would receive a bye to the group stages. Infantino said decisions would be made by 2017.
“It means we continue with a normal World Cup for 32 teams, but 48 teams go to the party.
“FIFA’s idea is to develop football in the whole world, and the World Cup is the biggest event there is,” he added. “It’s more than a competition, it’s a social event.”
There’s a lot to debate here. If this is simply “Top 16 teams in the world get a bye”, then this is a royal burn to federations like CONCACAF, OFC, CAF, and AFC. We could easily see better rested powers while teams like the USMNT, Mexico, Japan, and Ghana have to battle smaller nations prepared for the “Game of Their Lives” just to get to the group stage.
Then again, right now winning OFC doesn’t even get a single team automatically into the World Cup, as we saw when New Zealand missed out the 2014 World Cup thanks to a two-legged loss to El Tri.
Would this idea be better than the somewhat suspense-free EURO 2016 group stage, where 16 of 24 teams made the knockout rounds?