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A 40-Team World Cup?

October 28th, 2013 · No Comments · Fifa, Football, soccer, World Cup

Michel Platini, president of the European football federation, has called for the World Cup to be expanded from 32 to 40 teams.

First reaction?

More of a good thing can’t be bad.

Second reaction?

Too much of a good thing can, in fact, be bad.

Why 40 teams? Why now? Why would it be a bad idea, as outlined by Platini?

The “why 40” and “why now?” are about Fifa politics.

The election for president is coming up in 2015, and Platini seems increasingly likely to run for the position, presumably against the incumbent, Sepp Blatter, whose 2011 pledge that he would not run for reelection in 2015 seems to have been forgotten.

Both Blatter and Platini are chasing votes — among Africa and Asia, in particular. Blatter can tell you about the importance of those two continents — his electoral victories have been based on carrying those precincts, each of which has approximately as many votes as does Europe (54 of the 209 total).

Platini has figured this out, and a few days after Sepp said he wanted more African teams in the World Cup, the Frenchman retorted with his call for 40 teams.

If a 40-team World Cup were put together in some sort of vaguely equitable way, it might be worth investigating.

Platini, however, wants to give more World Cup berths to confederations that don’t deserve them.

Two more to Africa, which already has five; two more to Asia, which already has 4.5; two more to Concacaf, which already has 3.5; a full berth to Oceania, which has 0.5; and one to Europe, which has 13.

South America (5.5) would not get more places. Perhaps because South America’s confederation has only 10 members.

No African team has ever gotten past the quarterfinals. Same for Concacaf (which has been more successful than Africa, since the expansion to 32, in 1998). One Asian team, South Korea, did get to the semifinals, on home soil, in 2002 after some very, uh, fortunate breaks.

So, first problem: The best teams in the world are clustered in Europe and South America. (Check the current Fifa world rankings.) The latter perhaps deserves one more berth, or half-berth, to six. But Europe should get at least two more in a 40-team World Cup.

The second problem with the Platini proposal is that he wants eight groups of five — which is lame from the start because one team from each group would not play on the final day of group play. Which seems an invitation to irregularities and fixed results.

If Fifa is going to go to 40, why not just introduce one more round. Like this:

Ten groups of four. The 10 group winners go to the round of 16. Then, the 10 second-place teams, and the two best third-place teams meet — and the six survivors join the 10 group champions in a 16-team round, and there we are, back on schedule, with only a few days added to the tournament.

A 40-team World Cup? Probably not a good idea, even if it increases the chances of, say, China making the World Cup. (India, soon to be the world’s most populous country, will not make the World Cup in my lifetime. Cricket is all that matters, there.)

The current 32 seems a good number.

But if we are to have 40, let’s do it in an equitable and sensible manner.


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