DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The next World Cup will be the biggest ever after world soccer governing body FIFA grew from a field of 32 teams to 48 teams in 2026.
This means that more so-called “small football teams” who have not been to Qatar will have a once-in-a-lifetime chance when the tournament is hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico.
This could be great news for anyone who was entertained by Saudi Arabia’s shocking upset against Lionel Messi’s Argentina at this World Cup, Japan’s two wins over former champions Germany and Russia. or Morocco’s humiliation against star-studded Belgium and Spain en route to an unexpected quarter-final. Course. Other surprises surely await you in four years.
Still, it’s not clear to everyone that bigger is better.
While 48 teams could increase the chances of fairy tale moments such as Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 win over Argentina in the group stage, there’s also a good chance of the opposite happening: more than one-sided matches that can dull the shine of a tournament that’s supposed to be best against best.
Spain 7, Costa Rica 0 also performed in this World Cup. Much like Iran’s 6-2 rout of Iran, Australia’s 4-1 dismantling by France and Qatar becoming the first host nation to lose all three of their group stage matches. FIFA will have to dig even deeper into the lower levels of international football to go from 32 to 48.
“That means we’ll have to find 16 more good teams,” said Arsene Wenger, FIFA’s head of global football development and a central figure in making a 48-team World Cup viable.
FIFA continues to promote the expansion as an upgrade and good for the global game. All conti .
“I am convinced that if teams, countries have more opportunities to get on the world stage, it will do more for the development (of football) inside that country,” Wenger said.
The Qatar World Cup is the first in the Middle East and the furthest FIFA from the heart of football in Europe and South America. The move drew its own harsh criticism, but the action on the pitch could have been a timely announcement for the 48-team plan, which FIFA announced in 2017 and has had to defend since then over doubts over the exact format.
FIFA had initially indicated that there would be 16 groups of three teams, but this idea was widely criticised. Another option could be 12 groups of four teams. Wenger said FIFA’s decision-making board has yet to decide.
In Qatar, Japan was one of three Asian teams to advance to the round of 16, which had never happened before. African teams collected more points than ever in the group stage. Morocco topped a group of 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia and semi-finalists Belgium and qualified for the quarter-finals by beating Spain on penalties on Tuesday. Cameroon signed by beating Brazil, the first time an African side have conquered the five-time champion and football’s most famous team at a World Cup.
“Just watch how the World Cup is going,” Senegal coach Aliou Cisse said. “It’s not like 30 years ago, when big fish completely ate small fish alive.”
Amid Japan’s run in Qatar, winger Takefusa Kubo said “they can’t underestimate Asia”. Ghana coach Otto Addo said Africa deserved their extra spots and his teams now had a better chance of going further.
However, the expansion may not have much impact on the final World Cup result.
European and South American sides – the big fish Cisse refers to – have gobbled up each of the 21 World Cup titles so far, including 12 for Europe and nine for South America. No team from another continent has played a final in nearly 100 years of World Cup history. Eighty-two of the 84 semi-finalists are European or South American. The United States in 1930 and South Korea in 2002 are exceptions.
In Qatar, while teams outside Europe and South America fared well in the group stage, only Morocco advanced to the quarter-finals, where they will face Portugal on Saturday. South Korea, Japan, Senegal, USA and Australia were all knocked out in the Round of 16.
Cissé’s Senegal are African champions but were outclassed 3-0 by England. South Korea, ranked No. 3 in Asia, were eliminated 4-1 by Brazil. South Korean striker Son Heung-min, his country’s star, said almost enviously, “Look at their players.”
A bigger World Cup, however, offers clear opportunities for advancement for FIFA.
Just over 3.5 billion people, or more than half of the world’s population, watched the 2018 World Cup in Russia, according to FIFA, and the football body earned record revenue of 7.5 billion through trade deals related to the World Cup in Qatar.
With those numbers in the bank from a 32-team tournament, 48 offers the obvious chance to sell World Cup aspirations to more people in more places.
AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.
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Morocco head coach Walid Regragui is thrown into the air at the end of the FIFA World Cup Round of 16 match between Morocco and Spain, at the Education City stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/ Abbie Parr)
Moroccan Achraf Hakimi celebrates his victory during a penalty shootout during the FIFA World Cup round of 16 match between Morocco and Spain, at Education City stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar on Tuesday Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Argentina’s Lionel Messi, top right, leaves the pitch as Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Burayk celebrates after his team’s victory in the World Cup Group C soccer match between Argentina and Argentina Saudi Arabia at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar on Tuesday, November 22. 2022. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)