Fifa’s long-awaited decision to expand the World Cup to 48 teams from the current 32 has been met with huge approval by the Namibia Football Association (NFA).
NFA secretary general Barry Rukoro yesterday welcomed Fifa’s decision to expand the World Cup to 48 teams come 2026, saying it is a positive step in the right direction, especially for smaller nations that are yet to taste glory at the world’s biggest football showpiece.
Rukoro strongly feels that the revised format will finally accord most small football playing countries such as Namibia an opportunity to dream even bigger than ever, saying it will also motivate countries to invest even more in their infrastructure and various technical areas as they would be driven by the desire to compete against the world’s best at that stage.
“You would notice that over the years it has only been the bigger countries that have been making continuous appearances at the World Cup because they have the resources and financial muscle to invest heavily in their players and whatever areas that would need attention in order to ensure their World Cup participation. But for a country like Namibia, we don’t have the necessary resources to invest in our teams and compete at that level, plus the slots for qualifying African teams have always been few at the World Cup, so it’s really a great move by Fifa,” said Rukoro.
Rukoro added that the moment any country qualifies for the World Cup, it automatically boosts its overall outlook football-wise, which in turn leads to further investment in their youth development programmes and women’s football and that would subsequently yield significant social benefits for smaller countries.
An additional 16 countries will qualify for the tournament, with the group stage comprising 16 groups of three nations. Fifa has unanimously decided the World Cup will be expanded to feature 48 countries from 2026.
Approval for the increase from 32 teams meets President Gianni Infantino’s election pledge to expand the World Cup and could help fund extra money for Fifa’s 211 members.
It will also mean the current tournament format of 64 matches increasing to 80, which Fifa has forecast will boost income from broadcasting and sponsorship deals as well as ticket sales. The 2018 World Cup in Russia is expected to generate $5.5bn (£4.5bn) in income.
Fifa’s six confederations will find out in May how many extra places they will get for the competition. UEFA has said it wants 16 European teams in the 2026 tournament, which will likely be held in North America.
The CONCACAF region – which includes Canada and Central America – has not hosted the World Cup since it was held in the US in 1994.
Football bodies from the US, Canada and Mexico have held initial talks about co-hosting a bid for 2026. Africa and Asia could also benefit from the expansion, with up to nine places each. Africa had five and Asia only four at the 2014 World Cup.
But Fifa has admitted it expects the standard of the tournament to drop with an additional 16 teams. In a research document sent out to members last month, it said the “absolute quality” of play – defined by high-ranked teams facing each other most often – is achieved by 32 teams.
Three-team groups mean one country will be left idle for the final group matches, and concerns have been raised over collusion between the two remaining teams. Fifa has said it could guard against result rigging by introducing penalty shootouts if group games end in draws. – Additional info: SkySport