FIFA should allocate extra spots for World Cup 2026

2017-01-18 19:17

In 2010, the Black Stars of Ghana became only the third African nation to reach a World Cup quarterfinal. With a last four spot in sight, Uruguay marksman Luis Suarez controversially handled the ball to hand Ghana a late spot-kick. Asamoah Gyan stepped up with the hopes of all Africans on his right foot. Under the immense pressure, Gyan struck the crossbar to send his nation packing after a penalty shootout.

As a result, the wait for an African semifinalist continues to this day. With more African nations in world cup tournaments, some believe the wait would have ended decades ago.

Upon discovering FIFA’s plans to expand their marquee event, I foresaw a restructuring of the allocation of places at finals. With an extra 16 berths at the 2026 showpiece, lesser continents should be forgiven for being hopeful of a few more spaces for their nations. It was, after all, Sepp Blatter who uttered the following in 2013:

“It cannot be that the European and South American confederations lay claim to the majority of the berths at the World Cup.”

Although Blatter’s successor to the presidency, Gianni Infantino, followed through on that promise, talks regarding the allocation of extra spots will not be a smooth affair.

At the beginning of qualification for the 2014 event, football’s confederations entered the following number of nations into their continental legs, with the number of spots in finals parenthesised.

Asian Football Confederation (AFC): 43 [4]

Confederation of African Football (CAF): 52 [5]

Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF): 35 [4]

South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL): 10, including hosts [6, including hosts]

Union of European Football Associations (UEFA): 53 [13]

Oceanic Football Confederation (OFC): 11 [0]

Fans, sponsors, and players are rightfully concerned that an expanded world cup may dilute the quality of the showpiece. However, the World Cup would belie its name if it did not have the world in it. The argument that European and South American nations have historically performed better seems insurmountable on the surface. The reality, however, is that they have merely had more shots at the pie. This also explains, from one perspective, why these two continents have historically filled knockout spots.

European and South American nations more entertaining?

European football has, over the past decade or so, affixed itself as the leading opinion-driver in terms of tactics, entertainment value, and economic models. With this in mind, it is no wonder that there is an overwhelming collective opinion that anything that is not European is dull and useless. Steadfast fans of football from other regions, Premier Soccer League fans as a case in point, would beg to differ as far as entertainment value is concerned.

Benefits of more berths for lesser continents

Besides the obvious economical benefits of taking part in a world cup, smaller countries will have extra incentives to develop their local leagues and usher more quality players. This will only bode well for their national teams and, thus, better quality FIFA tournaments in future. Blatter once emphasised the unfairness of the current allocation:

“From a purely sporting perspective, I would like to see globalization finally taken seriously, and the African and Asian national associations accorded the status they deserve at the FIFA World Cup."

More matches?

Although there will be 80 matches in total, compared to the standard 64, individual nations will not necessarily play more matches than usual. The eventual champions will still only play seven matches on the way to the final, as is the case in the current 32-nation format. Furthermore, the tournament will only be 32 days long, a day longer than the 2002, 2006, and 2010 tournaments and the same length as the 2014 and 2018 tournaments.

For the World Cup to truly be a global showpiece, some semblance to equity is desired. Europe, for example, would ideally be content with no increment in finals spots. With the playing field closer to being an even surface, perhaps the chances for an African world champion may increase.

How should FIFA allocate extra spots for World Cup 2026?

Tweet me @Uncle_Uhuru

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