Expanded World Cup is bad news for Socceroos

Johnny Warren would be turning in his grave in the aftermath of FIFA's outlandish and money-driven decision to expand the World Cup to 48 teams from 2026.


Australia players celebrate a goal against Japan Source: Getty Images

The World Cup with 32 teams was perfect: eight groups of four and then a knockout phase.

Why on earth would anyone want to change that if not for the chance to make more money from the world's greatest sporting event?

Football's governing body has declared with a straight face that an expanded World Cup would not dilute the competition's standard and would give more smaller nations a glorious chance to be at the big table.

Many of the game's stakeholders abroad and in Australia have welcomed president Gianni Infantino's decision to award mediocrity with a spot in the World Cup which is supposed to be an elite event.

Sorry, call me old-fashioned, narrow-minded, elitist or plain negative, but I fail to see the benefits for the Socceroos from this momentous decision other than the almost certainty of qualifying for every World Cup from here to eternity.

What the revised size of the competition means is that FIFA will most probably increase Asia's allocation of spots in the tournament to 8.5 with a possibility of nine.

If the Asian Football Confederation are smart, the continent's top eight teams would be seeded in eight final qualifying groups so Australian fans will have to forget about such titanic tussles to the death with the likes of old rivals Japan, South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia for the right to play in the finals.

The fans will have to make do with a set of mouth-watering confrontations with such teams as United Arab Emirates, Oman, Jordan, Vietnam and bella compania for the right to play in the finals. Can't wait for those ones.

The idea behind Football Federation Australia's moves in 2005 to abandon Oceania in favour of Asia was to give our football much-needed, meaningful competition.

Too often the Socceroos were found wanting when it came to qualifying for a World Cup because effectively they had to play one tough tie every four years with no second chance.

Australia's liaison with Asia has made the national team more battle hardened and it also has lifted the standard of our game from a broader perspective, as can be seen from club football and the women's game.

It is not suggested that the second tier of Asia's football is on a par with that of Oceania - with all respect to New Zealand - but it would come as a major sensation if the Australians failed to reach the World Cup finals when they would have no Japanese, Koreans, Iranians and Saudis to contend with.

When disgraced FIFA president Sepp Blatter announced in 2003 that Oceania would get direct entry to the World Cup, many Australians including myself could not contain themselves with joy and expectation.

Yet Warren, who saw things few of us saw, looked at the bigger picture and was not a happy chappy.

Warren insisted that Australian football's best interests would not be served by such an easy path to glory. He was adamant the Socceroos would be much better off earning qualification the hard way rather than by being presented with it on a plate.
FIFA overturned that decision essentially to appease the South Americans who felt hard done by with just four guaranteed spots and subsequent events have proven Warren completely right, of course.

FFA will gladly accept an increased remuneration for playing in the World Cup as every national association would but they must also be prepared for much smaller gates during a qualification campaign many would see as a fait accompli, a foregone conclusion.

More importantly, FFA must also be prepared to go back to the game's past by having to deal with sub-standard teams on a regular basis in a situation Oxford Street wanted out from a decade ago.

We would play regularly in the World Cup, maybe reach the last 32 or 16 occasionally but we would never improve as a football nation because we would have nobody strong enough to test ourselves with in the intervening years.

The AFC Asian Cup is important but let's not forget that Iran are the continent's highest ranked team at 29 in the world.

I seriously believe this 48-team World Cup is not the godsend it is cracked up to be.

More like a devil in disguise.

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4 min read
Published 11 January 2017 at 12:59pm
By Philip Micallef