India and Nicaragua about to come: why Infantino makes a revolution in world football

India and Nicaragua about to come: why Infantino makes a revolution in world football Photo: Maksim Platonov

FIFA announced an expansion of the number of football world cup participants to 48 teams since 2026. The formula of the final tournament is the following: at first stage, teams will be divided into 16 groups 3 teams each. Two teams will go through the 1/6 finals. The total number of matches will increase from 64 to 80, which, in fact, won't affect the quality of games that every team will need to play in the WC. Realnoe Vremya's sports staff tells about pros and cons.

Succession or ''new broom''

In fact, quantitative changes are likely to make FIFA executives seriously change the regulation of competitions. Difficulties in competition for two tickets to the play-off while distributing three teams in the table can arise due to that. In addition, ties can be cancelled at the group stage. Like in hockey, penalties will decide who is the winner. FIFA already calculated that the expansion of the WC will bring the federation $640 million more than today. And, of course, additional tickets to the major football competition of four years will give a new impetus to the development of the No. 1 game in the countries that are still supposed to be a football backwater. And other beautiful words…

It goes without saying, extra 16 national squads mean not only an income but an additional financial and organisation load for the host team. This is why the 2026 WC might take place in three countries at once – Mexico, Canada and USA. The news just shocked. The previous head of FIFA Blatter was against the idea. And Gianni Infantino who substituted him succeeded to the throne and made a revolution. There is no sign of succession. It is likely to be a ''new broom'' and meeting preselection obligations. It is clear that Infantino did not fall to the football family from the sky. He is an experienced functionary who probably had ideas he starts to make real with enthusiasm a long time ago. His statements are quite convincing and logical. At the recent press conference before the Confederations Cup Draw in Kazan, he presented a good reason having noted that 48 teams were just 22% of FIFA member states, while 45% of UEFA member states participate in the finals of European competitions.

Undoubtedly, novelties will be seriously supported and approved by the majority of the FIFA family. After all, the most of the rest of 85% did not have any chances to reach the final with 32 participants (which accounts for 15% of FIFA members)…

At the recent press conference before the Confederations Cup Draw in Kazan, he presented a good reason having noted that 48 teams were just 22% of FIFA member states, while 45% of UEFA member states participate in the finals of European competitions. Photo: Maksim Platonov

Blur and kill the intrigue

Anyway, Infantino's revolution has too many doubtful moments. Even if almost a half of UEFA member states participate in European championships, many people admit that these tournaments excelled Mundials in terms of quality, especially at group stages. The margin in the class of outsiders is too big. For some WC participants, the very fact of reaching these competitions is equal to becoming a champion. We can't say they come to hang out under the Olympic motto ''participation is the most important thing'', but the final bottom position and early elimination are not surprising. It results in empty seats in the stands and matches stuffed to the gills that lost any sports importance. A championship with 48 teams will bring to a greater blur of quality borders, of course. In this case, the group stage will turn into an additional qualification round, in fact.

Inclusion of a big number of football newcomers in the tournament would actually kill the intrigue at group stages. The FIFA administration is going to solve the problem by making 16 groups 3 teams each. It may seem here is the adrenaline. Two matches, and rivals must win both. In fact, the mini-tournament is turning into an expanded play-off. On the other hand, if favourites don't allow to relax, players ''on benefits'' will have no chances to make a sensation. And obligatory penalty series means that football functionaries made the football lottery the key factor of a result. We could even return to the ancient approach by the toss of a coin.

Participation in the WC will give an impetus to the development of football in ''developing'' countries. Photo: salzburg.com

It won't help Russia

Participation in the WC will give an impetus to the development of football in ''developing'' countries. The national squad of Russian is an illustrative example of it. Our national team who earned a ticket to the Mundial in 2014 with great difficulty failed in Brazil having reached the bottom. They knocked from the bottom at the reformed 2016 Euro in France. No reforms at the top can't change the mistakes in the system at the level of organisation of football economy in a country. If we imagine that Infantino's reforms free us from disappointments that some celebrated teams will miss the tournaments like it was with Serbia in 2014 and the Netherlands in 2016. To tell the truth, in most cases, missing an important forum only means that the national team of a country is clearly going through not the best period in its history. We should understand that the majority of 16 new vacancies won't be given to Europe.

Yes, in many people's opinion, the European Championships, which took place in France last summer, where the greatest number of teams participated became successful. It allowed the teams like the squads of Wales or Albania to show themselves at a new level. There were no less people who noted that the amount of participants grew together with the amount of matches where the teams demonstrated their pragmatism and readiness for any compromises more than for passion and aspiration for a victory. Does not it seem that only rationalism multiplied by penalties will be the main ingredients of the major sports tournament of the planet?

By Anton Golov