The announcement that FIFA are extending the World Cup to 48 teams for the 2026 edition has been met with harsh criticism, with many arguing that it will mean the death of the tournament. But on the contrary, there are still some positives to this development:
A Chance for the Minor Nations
As was the case with the European Championships, an extended field provides a unique opportunity for nations that previously had no chance. For instance, Iceland—which had never qualified for the Euros—put up a respectable display by reaching the quarterfinals at the 2016 European Championships. While the quality would be limited at first due to saturation, nations would eventually catch up to a certain degree.
More of the world would consequently be involved in the competition. This is huge news for a country like China, as they would finally have the chance to qualify on a regular basis and build the national game in their country. Surely it is a good thing for the most populated nation in the world to be embracing the global game?
It may not be the best football in the world, but for many years the World Cup has not been the primary destination for top-quality sides; you can head to European football and namely Barcelona and Real Madrid for that. For football-mad people, it would be great to see several games a day involving random teams. Who wouldn’t want to watch Tahiti vs Paraguay?
The Big Nations Would Always Be There
While we often like to see the bigger nations fail to qualify, it does somewhat take away from an international tournament when one is not there. With a 48-team World Cup, the big teams and big names would qualify pretty much without fail. That means the big games will still be there and may even be better, as we will have to wait for them.
The Best Players in the World Would Be Involved
The likes of Ryan Giggs, George Weah and George Best all have one crucial thing in common: they have all never played in a World Cup. With minor nations able to qualify, players in teams that are not among the very elite will be able to play at the tournament.
The End of European Football Dominance?
Currently, world football’s elite are very much centred in Europe, meaning that the football product from the rest of the world pales in comparison. With a 48-team World Cup, the game will grow in other nations and a chance for better leagues in those countries would emerge. An increase in quality across the world would be beneficial to the game as whole; in Asian nations, for instance, fans might start getting behind their local sides rather than the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United and Liverpool.