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    What now for the expanded World Cup?

    Earlier today football’s governing body unanimously voted to expand the current format of The World Cup to 48 teams, with the new regulations coming into place in time for the 2026 World Cup. There has been huge debate on the topic, and both sides have garnered huge amounts of support. Infantino spoke about the possibility of expanding the World Cup the moment he stepped into office, replacing Sepp Blatter in early 2016. He’s made his mark – a move that’s already proving unpopular with some – but one thing is obvious. No matter what happens now, the World Cup will never be quite the same again.

    There are those that argue that expanding the tournament promotes greater equality throughout the sport, and allows for smaller nations to take part. There will always be the football purists who support these kind of ideas. Cast your mind back to the European Championships in 2004 where Greece walked away deserved winners and you will begin to see where their argument is formed. If you look at the recent rise of Wales, to give just one example, this move can only be a good thing for the smaller countries.  The only way to encourage the smaller nations to perform, and to expand the profile of the sport in those countries and continents is to allow of greater inclusion. If you simply look at the FA Cup as a case study, and the way the entire nation gets behind the low leaguers who go on a giant killing run we could see a totally different side to the world’s biggest sporting tournament. Imagine the scenes if a minnow like the Socceroos went all the way and took the cup back to Australia. That would be something to write home about.

    On the far side of the argument you’ve got those who want to see the quality of the tournament remain at its peak. They argue that by allowing smaller teams to enter the group stages there is a good chance of undercutting the quality on display on the pitch. It’s now not just to do with the smaller teams taking part but the way that the new format will affect the competition, however. By having more groups in total but cutting membership from four teams to three, FIFA is not only encouraging these teams into the group stages, but they’re giving them a much greater chance to reach the knockout stages as well – now no longer referred to as the last 16, but the last 32.

    Jose Mourinho is one of the biggest names in management to come out in strong support of expanding the tournament to 48 teams. He claims that no team will be able to play more than seven games anyway, exactly the same as any team can look to play in its current format (assuming a run up to the final is on the cards), so arguments for fatigue are wide of the mark. Maybe Jose will be singing a different tune come 2026, if his players are injured or worn out as a result of the longer tournament.

    What people quickly forget is that it does not only give exposure to the smaller nations, but to their players also. Many a summer purchase has been made off the back of good tournament performances, and, it’s one of the only ways for unknown players to gain attention. Patrick Berger moved to Liverpool where he enjoyed a long stint after top performances in the European Championship, as did Pavel Nedved when he moved to Lazio. Not all of these moves have been success stories however, with the likes of Andrei Arshavin and Marcos Rojo making up some of the more contemporary post tournament buys. Kleberson is usually the stand out flop of late summer transfer history. Referred to as the driving force of the Brazilian team at the time, he was bought by Manchester United and now lives in an alternative hall of fame along with former United 'stars' such as Massimo Taibi.

    It is usually a case of picking out which side has fought the most for the change in policy when it comes to casting blame, but for once, this is not a decision that you can blame on one party. This was decided by everyone, the political side of the game, the financial side and the sporting side all came together to vote on what they believe to be the best outcome for the future of the tournament.

    Only time will tell if this will have any change on the game as a whole. It might just end up being the one factor that everyone remembers him by at the end of his tenure. Even if the changes to the World Cup have little impact, the move will serve to cement Gianni Infantino’s legacy in the most powerful seat in the game.
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    Item Reviewed: What now for the expanded World Cup? Rating: 5 Reviewed By: J Holt
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