We now have a little bit more clarity as to what exactly a 48-team World Cup will actually look like, and it's...not great. The headliner item: the AP is reporting FIFA wants to hold a six team play-in tournament in the host nation the November prior to the World Cup, which would likely mean an end to the Confederations Cup. More on that in a bit, but the Confederations Cup is stupid and replacing it with an actual tournament is, on balance, good.
But the more important news is FIFA's recommendation for how these additional World Cup slots will be allocated by confederation. Here's the new recommended distribution of the 48 slots:
- Europe: 16
- Africa: 9
- Asia: 8
- South America: 6
- North America: 6
- Oceania: 1
For the qualifying tournament, all the confederations but UEFA will send one team, and the host nation's confederation will fill the last slot. Two teams from this tournament will then advance to the World Cup, completing the 48 allotments. (Also a change: the host country's automatic qualification slot will now come out of its confederation's allotment; so if the U.S. hosts the 2026 World Cup, CONCACAF will only have five other slots that year)
I was initially much more welcoming to the 48 team tournament than most, providing that FIFA took steps to reform the qualification process. Instead, FIFA is seeking to actively destroy any remnants of qualification that remained even remotely compelling. This is a terrible proposal for a terrible idea that should have never been adopted in the first place.
Under this proposal, South America's qualification, currently the most exciting in the world, will be boring as fuck since 60 percent of the teams will automatically qualify, and one more will go to this playoff thing. That means only three of the 10 South American countries will be knocked out via qualification. CONCACAF, which is already over-represented in the World Cup relative to its quality, will be sending actively bad soccer teams to the World Cup; if this format was in place for the current cycle, Trinidad and Tobago, a very bad soccer team, would automatically qualify for the World freaking Cup.
The AP also ran through the proposed playoff if it happened this cycle. Two of the following teams would make the World Cup: China, Curacao, Ecuador, Morocco, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Tahiti.
Do you think it is merely a coincidence that this format gives China, which is bad at soccer but the most lucrative untapped soccer market in the world, a drastically increased chance at qualification? Yeah, me neither.
The FIFA Council will vote on this proposal May 9 in Bahrain.