Sport has an affinity for the four-year cycle.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup is almost upon us, and fans all around the world can’t wait for the kickoff. But isn’t it a shame that there are only 32 countries that get to celebrate?
In the first of a few left-field World Cup stories, it’s time to investigate whether the FIFA World Cup could simply be a giant knockout tournament instead.
New FIFA boss Gianni Infantino announced that he would like an expanded World Cup to include 48 teams.
That is up from 32 teams that have featured at football’s big event since 1998, and from 24 from USA 94 backwards.
But is it enough? Why have an expanded World Cup and stop at 48?
We say it is not nearly enough. We say let’s have an expanded World Cup that includes every single team associated with FIFA.
That is by the last glance of the FIFA world rankings – 211 teams from all around the world. Why not give every football team in the world a little taste of the big time even if only a brief taste?
If we had all the teams at the World Cup, then we wouldn’t need a drawn out cycle two-year cycle to determine the final 32. We also then wouldn’t need so many of the tedious and annoying international breaks during the season.
Who isn’t sick of having their favourite league temporarily halted for another qualifier for the World Cup in a year and a half’s time, in groups that are so lopsided that they are usually meaningless with months to go?
Well with the plan for the expanded World Cup, you won’t have any need for so many international breaks or qualifiers.
It will be completely based on world rankings, with a knockout phase eliminating the lower ranked sides, and the top 48 teams waiting for 16 of the best to start a 64 team knockout. You would only need to extend the World Cup by a week or so to accommodate. It would then turn into a global football carnival.
With fewer qualifying games, rankings would be less fluid, so friendlies will still need to be included. But if rankings determine the World Cup order, then teams might take all internationals seriously.
Or having the same amount of international fixtures, but have the best playing the best, and let the minnows grow strong by not getting flogged in lopsided qualification groups.
And what a refreshing difference and expanded World Cup featuring all the teams around the world would be.
Here’s how we would work it.
Gurgler’s expanded World Cup draw
Firstly, the top 48 nations are excluded from the qualifying rounds. Much like how the very best of English football sit out the early rounds of the FA Cup.
The rest all play a series of knockout qualifiers to determine the best 16 of the remaining footballing nations.
This would give nations who never get a look in a little time in the sun for the World Game.
Of course, the games would have to be played at one of the team’s home ground, as very few nations could host so many football games at once. The higher ranked team get the game in a sudden death match. No draws, replays or second legs.
The World Cup would only kick off in the host nation once the 64 teams have been decided.
First of all, there are 211 teams, and an odd number doesn’t work, so time to eliminate the lowest football nation in the world.
Teams 211 and 210 playoff in a super knockout game for 210th in the world. Currently that would be Tonga v Somalia. What better way to showcase some of FIFA’s lower lights?
Without getting into the details, the purpose of the qualifying round is to reduce the lower ranked teams to the best 16, to take on the might of the best 48 who are waiting patiently.
In all games, the highest ranked side gets the home game.
With games all over the world, you could have non stop 24-hour football for a solid two weeks while the list is whittled down. Talk about a TV bonanza that FIFA could really get behind and cash in.
World Cup proper
The top 48 now join the 16 qualified teams for a round of 64. You can draw randomly, from pools, or a simple 1 v 64, 2 v 63 set up.
This part of the World Cup would then be at a host nation of the choosing of FIFA’s money, I mean an extensive process.
Instead of tedious group games, and the occasional boring 0-0 draw, it’s knockout all the way through. And penalty shoot outs, plenty of them.
Great for teams that are very good at knockout stages and penalty shoot outs. Not so great for teams that are not. Like England.
This means slightly less games for the big sides, but plenty more for the minnows. And FIFA is all about new frontiers. Isn’t that why we are heading to Qatar in 2022?
So why stop at 48 teams at World Cup, our expanded World Cup format gives everyone a go. And FIFA is all about participation.
Perhaps with the 2026 World Cup yet to be decided, FIFA could consider a radical change.
With Brazil, Germany, Spain, France all seemingly likely to be at the sharp end, the all team, full knockout tournament may just throw up some different names in the latter stages.
Or perhaps this is way too left-field.