Following their recent announcement that they have successfully ended racism, FIFA's latest benevolent act of inclusivism is to extend the World Cup to include 48 teams. FIFA unanimously confirmed the move today, meaning that the 2026 World Cup will feature 16 groups of three teams. This will see FIFA stretch the limits of the alphabet like never before: the tournament will feature will a Group P.
So, let's take a look at the world cup expansion winners and losers.
Today, John Delaney basks in the reflected guilt of the football world, as he has strengthened his credentials as John the Baptist, for he is the prophet who told football the good news before it was willing to listen. John was laughed at, mocked, and derided when he suggested extending the World Cup in 2009. 'Zey asked for zat, really!'. He told the world the Good News before they were realised they needed it.
Who's laughing now? (What's that, FIFA are still cackling as a result of the increased revenue an extended tournament brings? Oh, ok. Well the point still stands. JD called it).
The good people at Panini are about to come into some money. An extra 16 teams of 23 players will mean the printing of a further 368 stickers, along with the ancillaries of national team logos, coach etc. Our friends at Wales Online invited a Maths Boffin™ to calculate the average cost to fill the Euro 2016 sticker book (of 24 teams), and it worked out at an average of 374 (pre-Brexit) pounds. So without even adjusting for inflation, that average will increase to around £499, working out at €574.
In many ways, Infantino's rise to the top of World Football can be read as a journey to the Heart of Darkness. The man who was once seen as nothing more than the man who made the drawing of balls out a pot lengthier and more boring than anyone than could possibly have imagined has now used that process to solidify his position as FIFA's president. FIFA is democratic in the sense that
FIFA is democratic in the sense that political scheming is transparent: each member nation is entitled to a single vote in elections, meaning that the backing of Germany is of the same value as that of the Cook Islands. Sepp Blatter's extending of the World Cup and subsequent inclusion of previously unheard voices allowed him reign for so long. Gianni is now doing the same: Blatter had planned to extend the World Cup to 40 teams; his successor doubled down on 48.
The United States
With the increase in teams, it will be incumbent on the hosts to have plenty of facilities, making nearly impossible bids from the likes of Japan and South Korea. The U.S. are eager to take soccer home, so expect them to host the 2026 World Cup. A joint-bid by the U.S. and Mexico has been mooted, but with Emperor Trump entering his ninth year as America's CEO by then, it might be an awkward diplomatic undertaking. It either doesn't happen, or the World cup gets its most famous wall since Zaire's in 1974.
Asia and Africa
The distribution of the extra places have yet to be confirmed - they will be in May, to allow for a bit more politicking - but it is expected that the main beneficiaries will be Africa and Asia, with both expected to be given an added four places each.
Fifa members close to consensus on distribution of new World Cup places - final decision on that likely in May pic.twitter.com/h4MhRpIpQZ
— Martyn Ziegler (@martynziegler) January 10, 2017
The expansion of the Euros, and the ruining of the symmetry of the 16-team format was cast as a Very Bad Thing, until we realised that it allowed Ireland qualify, beat Italy and create memories to last a lifetime. Also, it's great news for the Content Producers looking for clips of fans singing to nuns and picking up litter during that competition? Here's to 2026!
The European Clubs
The European Clubs Association released a statement accusing the expansion being for "political rather than sporting reasons". They are fully against their well-remunerated stars playing and potentially being injured with somebody else, so are fully against the decision. Of course, the ECA would never prioritize political interests over sporting reasons when making decisions, would they?
In unrelated news, you can read this story of the ECA's proposition to UEFA about ringfencing Champions League positions for the biggest clubs to ensure higher TV revenue, regardless of their performance.
This is a two-headed beast. The first is that the already turgid World Cup Qualifiers will mean less than it already does, ultimately rendering international football relevant for one month every two years. The second is that more teams will mean more games, which will make it even more difficult for the viewer to achieve the main aim at each World Cup: to watch every single game.
To guard against collusion in the final fixture in the first round, drawn games will end in penalty shoot-outs. This will trouble England, as it is essentially a FIFA-endorsed method of being knocked out of the group stage.
'What do you mean I have to research Djibouti!?'