World Cup may have 48 teams

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Gra­ham Dun­bar

geneva» FIFA de­tailed how it could ex­pand the men’s World Cup in a 64page anal­y­sis of five op­tions for the fu­ture of its signature tour­na­ment.

The doc­u­ment was sent this week to FIFA Coun­cil mem­bers who on Jan. 10 likely will de­cide the shape of the 2026 World Cup.

Though re­tain­ing the 32team for­mat is on the ta­ble, FIFA and pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino are clearly com­mit­ted to change.

In­fantino be­lieves a 48or 40-team tour­na­ment would in­crease World Cup fer­vor in rel­a­tively new mar­kets — many of whom voted for him Fe­bru­ary.

“The FIFA World Cup as a pull fac­tor for de­vel­op­ment, of­fer­ing a re­ward to in­creased in­vest­ment and fo­cus on foot­ball de­vel­op­ment lo­cally, is sig­nif­i­cant,” the re­search doc­u­ment said.

More teams and more matches also mean higher com­mer­cial sales to help FIFA fund it­self and its 211 mem­ber fed­er­a­tions.

Here are some of FIFA’s ar­gu­ments for and against the five op­tions:

• 48 teams — 16 groups of three.

This is the pre­ferred op­tion, an­nounced by In­fantino just this month.

The 16x3 for­mat “of­fers the cer­tainty of at least two matches per team, avoids any post-play­off let­down pe­ri­ods and, im­por­tant, achieves all of this while re­tain­ing the au­then­tic­ity of the cur­rent 32-team for­mat by stay­ing true to the tra­di­tional, purist foot­ball knock­out for­mat,” the doc­u­ment said.

• 48 teams — open­ing 32team play­off round.

In­fantino’s big idea of three months ago to get to 48 teams has prob­a­bly found too much op­po­si­tion to suc­ceed.

It also has 80 matches, plus a round of 32 of un­doubted high drama— just not where teams, fans and broad­cast­ers want it.

The open­ing play­off round — of 32 teams play­ing a “one-and-done” match to join 16 seeded teams — has been viewed as not part of the real World Cup.

•40 teams — 10 groups of four.

Num­bers don’t add up.

Fewer matches, at 76, and a lop-sided bracket where only six of the 10 group run­ners-up would ad­vance to a round of 32.

“Any ex­panded for­mat would present some is­sues which need to be ad­dressed re­gard­ing sport­ing bal­ance,” FIFA said, with this flawed for­mat in mind.

• 40 teams — eight groups of five. The flab­bi­est op­tion. The most matches, 88, but too few of them would be mean­ing­ful.

In the 10,000 tour­na­ment sim­u­la­tions FIFA per­formed, it scored worst in terms of the pure quality of well-matched good teams play­ing against each other.

“Both 48-team for­mats out­per­form the 40-team for­mats, with the 40-team (8x5) clearly the weak­est for­mat in this re­spect,” FIFA said. • 32 teams. If not per­fect, cer­tainly a proven and pop­u­lar suc­cess since it was in­tro­duced at the 1998 World Cup in France.

The 64-match bracket is per­fect: Two teams ad­vance from each group into a round of 16.

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