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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

Police enter headquarters of Spanish club Malaga

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MALAGA, Spain (AP) Police entered the headquarters of Spanish club Malaga on Wednesday to seize documents related to a court case involving the second-division team.

[ MORE: Christian Eriksen holds talks with Levy; Inter “still confident” ]

Authorities did not release further details because the search-and-seizure action was part of an investigation being conducted under secrecy.

Police would not confirm Spanish media reports that the action was about a case in which Qatari owner Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani is being sued by minority owners over alleged administrative irregularities.

[ MORE: Levy reportedly met with Real Madrid about Gareth Bale ]

Al-Thani took over the club in 2010.

Malaga last month fired coach Victor Sanchez del Amo after an intimate video was released online.

The team from southern Spain is 16th in the 22-team second-division standings.

Bale’s agent denies loan reports; ‘not many clubs can afford him’

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Gareth Bale‘s agent Jonathan Barnett has called recent reports claiming the Real Madrid superstar could be loaned elsewhere “ridiculous” on the basis that “there are not many clubs that can afford him anyway.”

[ MORE: Daniel Levy reportedly met with Real Madrid about Bale ]

Bale has reportedly been unhappy in Madrid and at odds with manager Zinedine Zidane, leading to months of speculation that he could leave the Santiago Bernabeu. However, due to his nearly $600,000-per-week wages, very few — if any — clubs in the world can afford his wages, let alone the transfer fee required as well.

Therefore, a loan move would seem to make sense, only Barnett seems to be offended that a player of Bale’s caliber would ever be discussed as a loan candidate — quotes from the BBC:

“Why would one of the best players on Earth go on loan? That’s ridiculous. At the moment, he is going to be playing football for Real Madrid and he has got two and a half years left on his contract.

“He is happy and hopefully he will win a couple of more things with Real Madrid.”

“Things can change, but loans are ridiculous and there are not many clubs that can afford him anyway.”

Bale’s contract runs through the summer of 2022. He has scored just two goals in nine league games this season.

Bayern signs Odriozola on loan from Real Madrid

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich signed Spain right back Alvaro Odriozola on loan from Real Madrid on Wednesday to help ease its defensive worries after a spate of injuries.

[ MORE: Eriksen holds talks with Levy; Inter “still confident” ]

The Bavarian powerhouse said the 24-year-old Odriozola signed a deal to the end of the season after successfully passing a medical examination.

“We decided to fulfill our head coach Hansi Flick’s wish to strengthen the defense and decided for Alvaro Odriozola,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said. “We’re very happy with the transfer and thank the management at Real Madrid for the very friendly and cooperative talks.”

Bayern defenders Niklas Sule, Lucas Hernandez and Javi Martinez are out with injuries and 23-year-old Benjamin Pavard — a center back — had been filling in at right back. Odriozola’s arrival will free the French player to return to his usual position.

[ MORE: Cavani “will go to Atletico Madrid” if PSG let him leave ]

Madrid paid a reported $33 million to sign Odriozola from Real Sociedad in 2018, but the winger has barely played since. He made only four league appearances this season, with Dani Carvajal preferred at right back.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane gave the go-ahead for Odriozola’s transfer on Tuesday. Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao were also reportedly interested.

Odriozola has one goal in four appearances for Spain.

Bayern is hoping to claw back a four-point deficit on Bundesliga leader Leipzig to claim a record-extending eighth straight title.

Eriksen holds talks with Levy; Inter ‘still confident in this deal’

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Christian Eriksen met with chairman Daniel Levy on Tuesday in his latest attempt to secure his Tottenham Hotspur exit during the January transfer window, according to a report from Sky Sports.

[ MORE: Levy reportedly met with Real Madrid about Gareth Bale ]

Eriksen already has a pre-contract agreement with Inter Milan in place, but the Danish playmaker and the Serie A club are hopeful of completing the signing this month. Inter submitted a $14.5-million bid (plus bonuses) for Eriksen earlier this week, but Levy is said to be holding out for his $22-million valuation, fully guaranteed, of the player.

Eriksen’s agent is also expected to meet with Levy following Wednesday’s Premier League clash with Norwich City (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold) in yet another attempt to broker a deal between the two clubs.

[ MORE: Cavani “will go to Atletico Madrid” if PSG let him leave ]

Inter Milan chief executive Giuseppe Marotta remains optimistic that an agreement can be reached this month, as he told Sky Italia, “We’re waiting and we’re still confident in this deal.”