Opinion: Is FIFA’s new World Cup format an opportunity for diversity, or a congested, complicated catastrophe?

Opinion: Is FIFA’s new World Cup format an opportunity for diversity, or a congested, complicated catastrophe?

A look at the new 48-team World Cup format and if it will be for the better or for the worst of the beautiful game.

Danial Kennedy

Tuesday saw the announcement that everyone expected with it been confirmed that from 2026, the FIFA World Cup will involve an enormous 48 nations.

The plan for the format of the future tournament layout will see 16 groups of 3, and group games ending in a draw will end with a penalty shootout with the winner gaining an extra point.

Even before this near certainty was solidified in the Zurich, there was an outcry and division over the addition of 16 extra countries to an already congested competition. Many will see this as an opportunity for lesser countries to get their chance in the limelight and offer a more diverse tournament.

However, the argument against FIFA giving their recent discrepancies will be that more games equals more television money, and it is easy to see good arguments from both sides of the debate.


Bringing more nations together

The typical fan will not see a problem, more games means more time with the beautiful game and less days to kill before the regular season gets back underway. There is no doubt that this expansion can have it’s positives with the inclusion of more nations, that we would never usually get the chance on the world stage been the clear advantage.

The recent Euro 2016 tournament showcased countries that shone on the international stage, with the likes of Iceland and Wales who were playing in their first tournament since 1958 making the semi-final’s and gaining masses of support along the way.

The World Cup tournament has also seen it’s examples of the minnows exceeding people’s expectations, we had Turkey and Senegal in 2002 reaching the semi and quarter-finals respectively. The tournament in Japan and South Korea was the second time that the Turks had qualified, while for the African nation it was their first taste of the tournament.

The World Cup does what it says on the tin, it allows nations from all corners of the globe to come together and compete and more sides will only increase that unity in a society is in need of more togetherness and diversity.


Diluting the quality of the beautiful game

It is easy to look at this new expansion all teary-eyed with more nations to sing around the FIFA campfire, however looking at the logistics of it all it looks like a novelty that will not last long.

As good as it was to see more sides at the Euro 2016, the novelty of some groups having three sides going through wore off by the last 16. This mean that some sides didn’t have to play their best football and entertain masses, with some sides been rewarded for taking their foot off the pedal.

Many of the bigger nations have argued that the new format will dilute the competition and quality of the games and the performances. If you are look to at England in former years, easing through qualification and the group stages against usually weaker sides. The Three Lions would then be outclassed by a nation with considerable strength as they haven’t had that experience, and the expansion could leave some sides prone to that.

The most baffling decision of them all seems to be the addition of penalty shootouts, I would compare to the Checkatrade Trophy but on a much larger scale.

I can understand the logic behind it to add more entertainment and importance, and make nations give everything in matches. However, as we have seen from England’s lower league competition some of the shootouts were meaningless, with exiting sides been forced to take part. It may not look to bad on a League One ground on a cold Wednesday night, but in the biggest sporting event on the planet it could be catastrophic.

As I have said I see both sides to each argument, I do believe that it will add more diversity to the tournament. However, I do side with the skeptics with it seeming to me like FIFA adding more to an already congested tournament to squeeze out more profit for the greedy men out in the Alps.

Since the corruption scandal which saw the dismissal of former president Sepp Blatter, FIFA has looked to change it’s image under the watch of Gianni Infantino. It does seem that old habits certainly seem to die on this occasion.