48-team World Cup: throwing cat among pigeons

THE RECENT announcement by the FIFA Council that their premier event, the FIFA World Cup, will be increased to 48 teams has created heated arguments in world football. 

As expected, sceptics especially from Europe who sit at the top table of world football have cast serious doubts on the idea without even properly examining it.

FIFA is proposing a 48-team tournament, of which there will be 16 groups of three teams each from which two will progress to the 32 team knockout stage.

Of great importance is that the proposed expanded tournament is expected to take almost the same time as the 32 team arrangements.

Furthermore, there will be no reduction in the overall rest days during the tournament.

These proposals offer a huge incentive for nations to invest in their football teams in the hope of participating in the FIFA World Cup, which is perhaps the single biggest sporting event in the world, commanding a global television audience of billions of people.

Definitely change is good for any organisation or event. This particular change brings the excitement of the involvement of teams, which probably could never have qualified for the World Cup in its current format.

Africa, for example, will be getting nine slots in the proposed new format. Chances of more African teams progressing into the latter stages of the tournament will not necessarily be guaranteed but will be enhanced.

Africa has often flattered only to deceive at the pinnacle of world football competition.

The increase in World Cup slots also enhances the chances of other nations to make their appearances at the event, which actually makes business sense, in terms of ticket sales and broadcast revenue.

It could help to improve the standard of the football as more and more countries learn practically and realise what is needed to compete at the highest level.

At the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Costa Rica did not need much encouragement and incentive to dump the famous English and Italian teams out of the World Cup.

Their performances were like a breath of fresh air, full of energy, creativity and innovation compared to the dull chess-like matches of the traditional heavyweights characterised by too much caution and defence.

In most cases, the traditional heavyweights just limp into the semi-finals or final without any entertainment value.

Increasing the number of slots at the finals brings a lot of diverse footballing strategies and types of play which increases the entertainment value of the event.

Of course, others might be hammered heavily resulting in rugby score-lines. However, that is exactly how people learn. Adversity teaches a lot of valuable lessons.

When it comes to Africa, there are a quite a number of teams who have shown good potential and need to be thrown into the deep end to sink or swim.

The problem with Africa has been that of a select group of countries who have regularly found their way to the FIFA World Cup, by hook or crook.

Even the officiating during some of the qualification rounds has been so blatantly appalling, giving a distinct advantage to the “chosen few” of Africa who are the perennial representatives of the continent at the FIFA World Cup.

The new arrangement will certainly throw the cat among the pigeons. It is a serious game changer.

It means four additional slots for Africa, which can go to some countries playing free-flowing attacking football – which Africa is renowned for.

Countries such as Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gabon, Zambia, Mali and Guinea deserve their shot at glory and fame at the FIFA World Cup.

These are countries with excellent talent as well as great traditions of football.

However, due to bad luck and the intricacies of qualifying for the World Cup in Africa, they have always found themselves out of contention somehow.

Given the talent at their disposal, they can certainly cause a few heartbreaks at the FIFA World Cup.

Zimbabwe, too, notwithstanding the inexplicable and perennial maladministration of the game in the country, could fall into the category of countries in Africa, which could perform well at the World Cup.

They actually came very close to qualifying on two occasions only to lose the penultimate matches when it mattered most.

It is also very unfortunate that the country has been barred from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers due to non-payment of a former coach, which is a sign or gross incompetence on the part of the football authorities.

South Africa is the only South African country which has qualified twice for the World Cup but did not perform very well at the tournament.

Every football lover in the region hopes and prays that Bafana Bafana wake up from their deep slumber and start again to threaten the established order in African football.

The 48-team World Cup certainly offers greater opportunities for Southern Africa but other regions of Africa will be preparing for the opportunity as well!

When one assesses the individual and collective talent at the disposal of a good number of African nations, the 48-team World Cup idea is not such a crazy thing after all.

It gives hope to Dennis Onyango, Victor Wanyama, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Rainford Kalaba, Khama Billiat and Jonathan Pitroipa and others from previously disadvantaged countries to play at the FIFA World Cup for their countries.

However, Africans would still have to work very hard in order to make a meaningful impact at the pinnacle of world football competition and actually win the tournament.

It is not rocket science!

January 2017
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