‘48-team World Cup won’t be watered down’
FOUR YEARS from now, the FIFA World Cup will see 48 teams contesting the tournament for the first time in its history. Roy Simpson, Jamaica’s men’s team manager, and Xavier Gilbert, a member of the national coaching panel, aren’t worried that the expansion from the existing 32-team format will water down the quality of play.
The concern arises after heavy losses by some teams in this year’s tournament. Early on in the group stage, Spain hammered Costa Rica 7-0, and England dispatched Iran 6-2. Portugal later dazzled Switzerland 6-1 in the round of 16.
In addition, host nation Qatar and Canada were unable to score a single point in the group stage.
Gilbert or Simpson aren’t too concerned.
“It’s a good move. I don’t think it will water down the quality, not at all. When you look at Argentina, in their first game they lost to Saudi Arabia, and we know, even though I think Korea was down 4-0 at halftime, that was a good Brazil team,” Gilbert said of a brilliant first-half display by Brazil in a knockout game that ended 4-1.
Iran and Costa Rica came back to beat Wales and Japan, respectively.
“So they’re going to be off-days and bad days for different teams, but I don’t think it’s a watered-down competition,” he said.
Simpson expects that newcomers will struggle at first.
“You’re going to have some heavy defeats, but I think even this World Cup has shown that some of the minnows, you know, came into the tournament and really acquitted themselves well,” said Simpson.
According to Gilbert, the expansion will give more teams and players an opportunity.
“Having more teams participate, for me, is a good look, and it’s to give some players who probably would never play in the World Cup [an opportunity],” said the Reggae Boyz manager.
His prime example was 1995 World Player of the Year, Liberia’s George Weah, who won a wide range of club honours while winning 75 caps for his country.
“When you look at one of the world’s best players, George Weah, didn’t play in the World Cup.”
Norwegian goal machine Erling Haaland was conspicuous for his absence from this year’s tournament because his team failed to qualify.
The Excelsior top coach believes that African countries will step up. “When you look on how African football has grown, Morocco making it into the top four, it says a lot. So other African nations will line up themselves to be part of history,” Gilbert argued.
Simpson is taking a patient approach.
“It’s going to take a while for some countries coming in to get to that standard, but I think this World Cup shows that the disparity among the better teams and the minnows is not as wide as it once used to be,” said Simpson.
The 32-team format was introduced in 1998.